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Phone Booth - preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

LIFE has a funny habit of imitating art when it comes to Hollywood. Everyone knows how Tinseltown felt when its visions of the destruction of New York were realised by the events of September 11; and now one of the nation's biggest stories (that of the 'Washington sniper') looks to have been lifted straight out of another upcoming movie.

Phone Booth is a cat-and-mouse psychological battle, set in downtown Los Angeles, which begins when a slimy executive nips out to phone his would-be mistress, only to answer a ringing phone and be told that if he hangs up, he will be shot. The ensuing action takes place in and around the confines of the phone booth.

The film reunites Tigerland star Colin Farrell with its director, Joel Schumacher, and co-stars the likes of Kiefer Sutherland (as the sniper), Katie Holmes (as the potential love interest) and Forest Whitaker. It has been pencilled in for a November 15 release in the States, and should follow on these shores early next year.

Aside from boasting a topical premise, Phone Booth is notable for several things - not least the fact that it was shot on a tight budget by the independent-focused Schumacher (much in the same way as Tigerland). If the film is anywhere near as good as the pair's previous partnership, then this should hit the target with audiences.

Written by B-movie veteran Larry Cohen, the film was originally envisaged as a big project, attracting the attention of Pearl Harbor director, Michael Bay, and the interest of actors such as Jim Carrey and Will Smith.

When Schumacher agreed to take it on, however, the focus changed, especially when he brought Farrell on board. Eyes were raised, given that the former Ballykiss Angel star was relatively unknown (he had yet to co-star alongside the likes of Bruce Willis in Hart's War or Tom Cruise in Minority Report).

Schumacher also switched the films locations from Manhattan to LA, and opted for a real-time approach, completing the shoot in a mere 10 days and working from dawn until dusk at a clip of 12 pages a day.

And while advance word is pretty hot for the film, Schumacher confesses to amazing even himself, as he wasn't sure that it could be done on such a tight schedule.

Not everything went smoothly, however. Ron Eldard (the former ER star last seen as a wounded hero in Black Hawk Down), was initially cast as the villain, but was replaced by Sutherland when Schumacher put the film back into production. The director has refused to comment on the reasons why.

The film was also initially earmarked for a US release last December, although Fox preferred to wait and see how Farrell's Box Office appeal grew, post-Tigerland. Needless to say, they held off even more when the actor's follow-up projects, American Outlaws and Hart's War, failed to set it alight.

Yet with Farrell hot again after his strong support turn in Minority Report and set to appear as the villain in next year's Daredevil, the timing seemed right to pop some money in the Phone Booth and, hopefully, connect with audiences. It remains to be seen. however, whether real-life events will help or hinder its success once more.

The US reaction...

Colin Farrell appears to have hit Box Office and critical gold with his latest thriller. In the main, notices from the States were very good, mirroring the strong advance reviews from the UK's film critics.

Rolling Stone led the tributes, stating that 'Farrell is a dynamo. And Kiefer Sutherland, whose sniper role is essentially a voice on the phone, matches Farrell subtle shift for subtle shift'.

The New York Post referred to it as 'entertainingly lurid' and awarded it three out of four, before adding that 'Farrell delivers a tour de force in this clever cross between Sweet Smell of Success and Dog Day Afternoon'.

The San Francisco Chronicle, meanwhile, wrote that Phone Booth is 'a movie that combines a seriousness of purpose with an impish delight in craft, in a way Hitchcock would have appreciated'.

The Washington Post felt that 'it's really more a gimmick than a movie, but it hammers you flat the whole way through', while Village Voice wrote that it is 'absurdly set in some pre-cell-phone, post-Amadou Diallo alternate universe and generously stocked with logical inconsistencies, Phone Booth is best appreciated as hilarious pulp metaphor'.

The New York Times, however, broke with the mould, and wrote that Phone Booth was 'bogus on every level, right down to its half-hearted trick ending', while Hollywood Reporter noted that 'the stratagems that compel the film to stay put are as improbable as they are illogical'.

FilmCritic.com, meanwhile, referred to it 'as one of the best thrillers in years — high concept, original, and completely unpredictable, and awarded it four out of five.

E! Online awarded it B+ and wrote that 'Farrell proves he has got the grit to keep us hanging on too, as most of the movie rides on his tight performance'.

Entertainment Weekly was less enthused, however, stating that 'for all the coiled skill of Farrell's performance, the character remains a frantic, one-note hustler who gets no more interesting to watch as he unravels'.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times, wrote that 'if the whole thing flags, then dive-bombs at the midway point, it's not because Farrell and Schumacher aren't trying hard, but because the filmmakers struggle to wedge in some meaning where none belongs'.

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