Cellular (2004)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, Jason Statham, William H. Macy
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Trailer

Phones have been good to Larry Cohen lately. After spending almost a decade in straight-to-video and television purgatory, the cult writer/director of such classics as "It’s Alive" and "The Stuff" finally returned to the big screen with the Joel Schumacher-directed "Phone Booth." Just over a year later, Larry Cohen followed this success up with a similarly themed screenplay. Like "Phone Booth," "Cellular" has a great hook and some effective suspense pieces, but doesn’t quite manage to come together.

Colin Ferrell spent almost all of "Phone Booth" trapped in the titular location by a serial killer. "Cellular" finds the situation reversed almost exactly; Jessica (Kim Basinger) is kidnapped by unknown assailants and locked in an attic, but they don’t do an entirely competent job of smashing the room’s phone. As Jessica experiments with the wires, she manages to connect to a stranger’s cell-phone line. If he hangs up, the connection will be broken forever, and Jessica will be left with no way to contact the outside world. Their relationship also brings to mind "Die Hard," when Bruce Willis, trapped inside a skyscraper with terrorists, maintains communication with a police officer he’s never met.

This idea of personal relationships in the information age, in which our world is more connected than it’s ever been but the individual grows increasingly more isolated, is at the heart of "Cellular." While Ryan (Chris Evans) does his best to help the voice he hears over his phone, most of the other people he encounters are too disinterested to offer assistance, and can’t be bothered long enough to have their daily lives interrupted. There’s a lady who drives by in a convertible blasting music so loud that it almost gives Ryan’s presence away to the kidnappers, salespeople at an electronics store who won’t do anything aside from tell him to take a number when he’s in desperate need of a new battery, and a hopelessly cartoonish lawyer who has no sympathy for crossed phone signals.

In spite of this interesting subtext, "Cellular" doesn’t always works as a suspense film. Often the set-ups seem too formulaic, and the plot machinations go beyond reasonable expectations for suspension of disbelief. Some individual scenes are effective, but the film is never able to sustain this for very long.

The DVD’s <$16x9,anamorphic> 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> transfer is excellent, drawing out the contrasts between the sunlit Los Angeles exteriors and the dark, oppressive attic that Jessica finds herself trapped in. Colors are often bright and crisp, but the scenes of Jessica’s captivity reveal some rich browns and grays as well. Some minor edge enhancement was noted in a few scenes, but there’s nothing in the way of compression errors to get too worked up over.

The Dolby 5.1 track presents a very active mix, which does a particularly nice job of emphasizing the different layers in John Ottman’s score. Dialogue is crisp and clean, and the dynamic range is solid throughout. The soundtrack is equally at home whether Kim Basinger’s whispering over the phone or crashing through a shed in a van. There’s also a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack, which offers the same level of clarity and dynamic range, but is of course less active.

The extra features get started off with a clever audio <$commentary,commentary track>, hosted by Director David R. Ellis. He’s joined in the studio by his wife and daughter, both of whom worked on the film, as well as a fair number of cast and crew members via, you guessed it, cell phone. Five deleted scenes, including an extended ending, all have commentary from Ellis but don’t offer much new.

Of the three featurettes, "Dialing Up Cellular" is the only one that directly deals with the film. It’s a fairly standard 25-minute featurette, but offers some interesting insights into the film’s origins. The 20-minute featurette "Celling Out" takes a look at the ever-expanding cellular culture, and makes some feeble attempts to tie it in with "Cellular." Lastly, "Code of Silence: Inside the Rampart Scandal" (27 minutes) goes over the real-life case that inspired some of the story elements of "Cellular." It’s a fascinating documentary (in spite of the cheesy reenactments), but is even further removed from the film itself, and seems only marginally relevant. There’s also a theatrical trailer and New Line’s standard selection of web-based features. Kindly enough, all of the extras are <$16x9,anamorphic>.

Even with some interesting sociological undercurrents, "Cellular" doesn’t manage to become anything more than a run-of-the-mill thriller. The elements all seem formulaic and even the surprises don’t really surprise. So if you approach it without too many expectations, it works just fine. Thankfully, New Line’s disc gives it about the best treatment we could have hoped for, with an excellent transfer, a strong Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, and extra features that are engaging even when they’re not directly related to the film itself.