September 12, 2004 -- “Cellular” is a stylish, fast-paced crime-suspense film that is so well-crafted, fast-paced and comically self-aware it jauntily skips right over the holes in the plot.
The story has a very reluctant hero, Ryan (played by Chris Evans of “The Perfect Score”) who gets a call on his cell phone from a stranger named Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger of “8 Mile”) being held hostage in an undisclosed location. Ryan ends up trying to save the woman, her child and husband from a vicious gang. Ryan drives all over Los Angeles trying to figure out where Jessica is being held. This brings up a lot of obvious questions, like why don't the police handle it? Why doesn't Jessica just call the police herself? How does Ryan, a slacker type, suddenly become a stunt driver and super hero? The movie does answer some of these questions, but the answers are too complicated to get into here. The story is only marginally plausible, but it sure had me on the edge of my seat.
One of the reasons it works so well is that the film is slickly made and the actors are very effective, especially William H. Macy, who plays Mooney, a cop drawn into the case. Macy is a terrific actor and it is great to see him get an action hero type role like this, and the rare romantic leading man role he nailed in his last film, “The Cooler.” Also effective is Jason Statham of “The Transporter,” who plays Greer, one of the main bad guys. Maybe the biggest surprise is the performance of Chris Evans in the lead role. He carries the film nicely along with Basinger. Both Evans and Macy excel as reluctant heroes in this film. Reluctant heroes, are of course a staple of American cinema going back to the days of the western films like “High Noon.” We'd all like to think there is a hero lurking in everyone, just waiting for an opportunity to get out. Their heroism isn't played straight, either. There is a distinct comic element in both roles that is well-written and well-acted. This self-aware comedy makes the clichés and some of the plot holes part of the game. It takes the edge off of what would otherwise be problems if the film took itself seriously.
Another reason the film works is that there is no letup in the action or the suspense once it starts, so you really don't have time to consider some of the plot holes. There is one glaring problem with the script that doesn't show up until the last act. I can't reveal what it is without spoiling the surprise, but it has to do with why the bad guys are after this particular family. The film also uses a number of standard action film clichés. Despite these problems, the film works, perhaps because it is a simple action genre film, and partly because of its self-aware comic elements. It would have been nice if the film was more ambitious and smarter. It isn't ambitious, it doesn't cover any new ground, but its craftsmanship shows a mastery of this genre. This film rates a B.
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