Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.
A young man receives a call on his cellular phone from a woman who says she's been kidnapped, and thinks she's going to be killed soon, along with her husband and son who the kidnappers have gone after next. The catch? She doesn't know where she is... and his cell phone battery might go dead soon. Written by
Mom, will you still be a science teacher when I get into high school?
Hmm... You never know. Why?
'Cause I think it'd be kind of weird to have your mom as a teacher.
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The first part of the closing credits show cast and crew names on cellular telephone screens. See more »
When Jessica Martin, a high school science teacher, is kidnapped by a mysterious gang, she has no idea who her assailants are or what they want. She knows, however, that they are determined and ruthless (they have already shot dead her housemaid) and that her life is in danger. Her only lifeline to the outside world is a telephone in the room where she is being held prisoner. This has been smashed by the kidnappers to prevent her from using it, but she manages to piece it together and to make a random connection. She reaches the cell phone of a young man named Ryan; at first he believes the that the call is a joke, but Jessica eventually convinces him that she is serious. (In Britain we would normally say "mobile phone" rather than "cell phone", but the film was still released here under the same title, "Cellular").
A further twist comes when we discover who the villains are and what their motive is. At first we assume that they are gangsters who have kidnapped Jessica in order to extort money from her husband, but we later learn that they are corrupt police officers who have robbed and murdered a group of drug dealers and that they have targeted Jessica because her husband was a witness to the killings. The point of making Jessica a married woman considerably older than Ryan was presumably to allow the director to concentrate on the thriller elements of the plot, avoiding the unnecessary distraction of the romance between them which viewers would doubtless have expected had she been young and single. I must say, however, that Kim Basinger is still remarkably fine-looking for a woman in her fifties.
The film is not a very original one. I cannot comment on the allegations that it is too similar to "Phone Booth", as I have never seen that movie, but its basic "woman in danger" plot has been used in dozens of thrillers. There are also similarities to the Michael Douglas film "Falling Down"; some of Ryan's adventures as he races across Los Angeles (the city where "Falling Down" was also set) in a desperate bid to save Jessica and her family parallel those of Douglas' character Bill Foster, especially the scene where Ryan, in desperation, holds up a store to force the staff to sell him a phone charger before his battery goes dead and he loses Jessica's signal. The one police officer whom Ryan does manage to persuade of the seriousness of Jessica's plight, Sergeant Bob Mooney, is coming up to retirement, like the character played by Robert Duvall in "Falling Down".
Yet despite its lack of originality, "Cellular" is a tense and involving thriller. Despite the early, and rather jarring, death of the maid, it falls within the tradition of what might be called the lighter thriller, dating back at least as far as Hitchcock films like "To Catch a Thief" or "North by North-West". Excitement is combined with humour, much of it in this case arising from the fact that, in his desperation to save Jessica, Ryan is forced into a position where he has to perform all sorts of illegal actions which he would never normally contemplate, such as robbing a shop at gunpoint or stealing two separate vehicles. There is also satire at the expense of some of the characters, such as the arrogant, loud-mouthed lawyer who is the victim of one of Ryan's thefts. Even Mooney, who is undoubtedly courageous and resourceful, is in some ways a comic character, with his obsession with setting up a beauty salon after retirement.
I had previously only seen one film by director David R. Ellis, the appallingly sadistic "Final Destination 2", so "Cellular" came as a pleasant surprise. There is nothing deep about it, but Ellis handles the pacing and the action sequences well, making this a very watchable thriller. 7/10
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