April 4, 2003
Phone Booth is a new movie directed by Joel Schumacher.
Okay, who's still with me?
For those of you who remember Mr. Schumacher as the creator of such timeless work as The Lost Boys, The Client and St. Elmo's Fire rather than for Batman and Robin (let's just end the bad movies list there before you start throwing things), the announcement that he is again working with the talented Colin Farrell is great news. After all, their combined efforts in Tigerland led to a lot of indie buzz and the stray awards nomination for Farrell. Considering that Schumacher is not exactly known as an indie auteur, it speaks volumes about their work as a duo that the film managed to overcome the Batman Guy bias and receive multiple Independent Spirit Awards nods. If Joel is going to direct again (and we just can't seem to stop him, no matter how hard we try), having Farrell be the centerpiece of his efforts is about the best to hope for.
Colin Farrell became the It guy of the moment in Hollywood due to his raw, emotionally-naked performance in Tigerland. He landed this role due to the recommendation of one of the finest actors of our generation, Kevin Spacey, who saw the actor in a London play and was dazzled enough to pass along the tip to his director friend. While Farrell's films since Tigerland have been the equally-disappointing Hart's War and American Outlaws, it is still anticipated that Colin will be white-hot after his role in the can't-miss blockbuster Minority Report. From there, he will attempt to carry The Farm and Phone Booth on his own. Currently, Phone Booth is scheduled to be the later project by a matter of weeks, but depending on studio scheduling decisions between now and the fall, it could easily wind up being his first post-Spielberg-movie release. Under either circumstance, Phone Booth is clearly the bigger project.
We know this to be the case if for no other reason than the who's-who list of actors who have been attached to Phone Booth at one point or another. Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and, most famously, Jim Carrey have all been given the opportunity to do this movie, and all showed a lot of interest only to reluctantly pass it by for other projects. The appeal to each of them is obvious due to the central tenets of the egocentric world of acting that they inhabit. Phone Booth is very much the ultimate role for face time.
Phone Booth takes place in a...wait for it...phone booth.
Virtually all the action in the film occurs within this enclosed space, in a style reminiscent of the classic Hitchcock film Rear Window and the more recent Panic Room. In this claustrophobic environment, an ordinary businessman finds his very life at risk. When he enters the booth, the phone begins to ring. Befuddled yet intrigued, he answers, only to discover an ominous voice on the other line telling him that if he exits the confined area of the pay phone, he will be shot and killed. At this moment, our protagonist discovers a red dot on his forehead signaling that he is, in fact, targeted by a sniper located at some unseen point above him.
Both Phone Booth and Panic Room attempt to create the conflict of small-space imprisonment due to unforeseen circumstances. The key difference (and beauty) in Phone Booth's execution is the ease of acceptance in achieving this. In the Jodie Foster film, there is a need for forced expository dialogue that the concept of Phone Booth cleverly discards. After all, how many people do you know who own a panic room in their house? A rationale must be offered to explain this unusual circumstance. How many people do you know who have never used a phone booth in their lives? This could be any of us on an ordinary day, having the misfortune of encountering a crazed murderer;well, theoretically, anyway. The assailant is a twisted man who has decided to pick a total stranger to menace and possibly slay. With a setup this natural, it's easy for the audience to put themselves in the place of the imperiled everyman and empathize with his plight.
The key to the success of the film will be whether Farrell offers a performance similar to the work of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. In that movie, Hanks was so engaging that audiences felt driven to think along with him about what they would do to handle the various predicaments he faced and hurdles he had to overcome. With Phone Booth, it is imperative that Farrell manipulate the emotions of the audience in a similar fashion. Will he have the ability to do this? If Kevin Spacey thinks he has that sort of talent and Steven Spielberg thinks he has that sort of talent, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Phone Booth will also co-star Radha Mitchell as the Farrell character's girlfriend. She is most famous for her work with Ally Sheedy in the indie drama High Art and with Vin Diesel in the low-budget sci-fi film Pitch Black. She should feel right at home in this stubbornly low-budget film, as Schumacher continues to eschew the expensive productions that have left him open to the assaults of movie critics and studio execs alike. Also along for the ride is Kiefer Sutherland, whose career has been re-invigorated by his work on 24. He will have the key role of the would-be assassin who torments Farrell's character.
Phone Booth is poised to be a Thanksgiving release, though it is currently scheduled to come out two weeks earlier against the Harry Potter sequel. As with most major tent-pole films, it is expected that Potter will end up alone on that date so that no other big film is forced to be such a clear-cut secondary choice. For this reason, I expect Phone Booth to slide back a couple of weeks to the spot on the calendar filled by Spy Game in 2001 or move into December. With a film concept so likely to stir discussion and thereby generate buzz, the holiday legs period of the schedule makes the most sense. Whatever the release date, I expect Phone Booth to find tremendous success in theaters. (David Mumpower/BOP)
October 15, 2002
As has been speculated for several days now, Fox has been forced to place Phone Booth on the shelf for an indefinite period of time. With the Washington, D.C. sniper having already shot 11 victims, there was simply no way for the studio to market this film without taking a savage beating from the press and the public alike. It remains to be seen if Phone Booth will at some point receive a new marketing campaign a la Collateral Damage but as of now, it appears more likely that this production will follow the path of Big Trouble..which is not a good thing. Trying to release a film about a sniper is as close to an impossible sell as there is at the moment. Fox execs do deserve a tip of the cap for doing the right thing here and pulling Phone Booth off of the schedule. It's not just the best play for the corporation but also the decent thing to do. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Comparison films for Phone Booth
|Batman and Robin
|Time to Kill, A