Take a career second-unit director, add a couple of good-looking young stars, a couple of veteran actors, a preposterous plot line, and a bunch of bikini-clad women on the Santa Monica pier, and you’ve got yourself a pretty entertaining movie. You may have missed Cellular in the theaters — if you did, it’s worth a rental.
The concept is simple. Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) has been kidnapped out of her home and locked in an attic in a location she doesn’t know. Her captors have smashed the telephone in the attic, but she manages to patch it back together. The keypad doesn’t work, however, so she taps wires together to pulse dial numbers at random, hoping to connect with someone.
She succeeds in dialing Ryan’s (Chris Evans) cell phone. Ryan is an amiable slacker, irresponsible but likable. He doesn’t believe her story at first, but agrees to go to the police, where he hands the phone to Mooney (William H. Macy), a career cop who’s getting ready to retire to open a day spa with his wife. Circumstances prevent Mooney from taking the case, but he hears enough to become involved in the end game.
While at the police station, Ryan becomes convinced of the seriousness of Jessica’s plight, and the rest of the movie is a mad chase around Los Angeles as he tries to locate Jessica and prevent her son and husband from being abducted. All the while, he’s got to maintain a cell phone connection with Jessica, who can’t call him back should they become disconnected.
The plot is a one-trick pony, but it’s a pretty good trick. If you’re willing to check your higher critical faculties at the door, the obstacles presented by current cell phone technology and the solutions that Ryan finds to them keep the action moving at a brisk pace. Phone battery running low? Hold up a cell phone store. Someone else’s signal jamming your call? Take their phone. And don’t forget, you can’t go up stairwells or drive through tunnels.
The three stars interact with each other face to face only at the end of the movie, but there’s a kind of chemistry that develops nonetheless, as each of them is fighting a common enemy. Really, though this movie isn’t much about character development. It’s a well-executed thrill ride. What it lacks in style, it makes up for in intimacy — there’s not a lot of backs of heads or CGI in the action sequences. The plot requires us to suspend our disbelief to the limit and more, but the real quality of the stunt shots draws us right back in. Sure the situation is ridiculous, but it really looks like these characters are experiencing what we’re seeing. Sometimes making a film on a tight budget can be an asset.
Kim Basinger is credible as a surprisingly resilient victim of circumstance. William H. Macy turns in a performance reminiscent of Frances McDormand’s cop from Fargo as an unassuming, quirky, but ultimately ultra-competent dedicated cop. Jason Statham is effective as the bad guy.
I imagine that this movie may be watched by a lot of people years from now who want to see Chris Evans before he became a star. I’ve seen him in one other movie, The Perfect Score in which he plays the same kind of character — an underachiever led to do extraordinary things by circumstances, and he was similarly engaging in that movie as well. He’s due for some better exposure in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie — now’s your chance to catch him so you can say, “I knew him when…”