Stu (Colin Farrell) is a self-seeking publicist who ensures he looks after himself before any of his clients. Every day for the past few weeks he has been using a New York City phone booth to call an aspiring actress (Katie Holmes), telling her he has big plans for her when all he really wants to do is get her into bed. But today, after he hangs up, the phone rings. Stu answers it, and there's a man on the other end of the line who knows everything about him - a man with a sniper's rifle trained on Stu's head...
Scriptwriter Larry Cohen came up with the idea for Phone Booth in the sixties, and offered it to Alfred Hitchcock, but they couldn't figure out a way to make the plot work. The film was finally made, and it succeeds in sustaining your interest for the running time, partly because it's so brief, and partly because it's an arresting concept. Cohen devised a premise that would be effective in this age of mobile phones, and still manages to use the new technology for the plot.
Alas, the sniper's motives are revealed as flimsy, even petty. Director Joel Schumacher dresses up the story with a bag of tricks, including split screen, smaller screens inside the larger one to show who's on the phone, fast cutting and a constantly moving camera. But, in spite of Farrell's integral performance, he can't disguise the undernourished quality of the whole, as he disguises the static nature of the single location action.
The film is set up as revenge against a selfish man by a vindictive stranger, and also as a way of getting back at the sleazier, more exploitative end of the media. I'm surprised Schumacher didn't make Stu a film critic and the sniper an aggrieved moviemaker. We are told that the sniper has already murdered a child-molesting porn king and a businessman who financially ruined thousands of lives, but all Stu has done is nearly (not actually) cheat on his wife and deceive those in his business, which isn't, you must admit, on the same scale.
The tone shares the same moralistic view as the villain, and while Stu can't be too sympathetic or we wouldn't think he deserved his punishment or forgiveness, he can't have committed anything too despicable or we'll be siding with the sniper. The main characters around Stu are the decent ones: his wife, his would-be mistress, or the cop (Forest Whitaker) in charge of the operation to stop the situation escalating further when the sniper shoots a pimp to demonstrate his firepower. And the resolution holds no surprises; maybe this would be better as a radio play. Fifty years ago, it would have been a B-movie.
American director and occasional writer who rather unfairly won a reputation as one of the worst in Hollywood when he was really only as good as the material he was given. Starting as a costume designer (working with Woody Allen), he went onto a couple of TV movies - screenwriting Car Wash, Sparkle and The Wiz between them - and then a feature, spoof The Incredible Shrinking Woman. D.C. Cab followed, then a couple of eighties-defining teen hits, St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys, and remake Cousins.
In the nineties, he was offered higher profile movies, including supernatural Flatliners, cult urban nightmare Falling Down, John Grisham adaptations The Client and A Time To Kill, blockbusting camp Batman Forever and the much-maligned Batman & Robin, and grotty 8MM. 1999's Flawless signalled a change to smaller scale works: army drama Tigerland, true life tale Veronica Guerin and thriller Phone Booth. Lavish musical The Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber was a Lost Boys fan) was a return to the overblown blockbusters, but it flopped, as did his conspiracy thriller The Number 23.