Cellular asks and answers one simple question: “How many ways can a cell phone be used?” The answer ends up being a whole lot, because we find out that a phone can do a great number of things, at least, whenever it’s convenient for the plot to remember them. But that’s okay because while you watch this film, you forget about how contrived the plot is and focus instead on the ridiculousness of the entire film.
That’s not a criticism though. The reason that Cellular is incredibly fun to watch is because of how ridiculous it is. The actors seem to be playing it for laughs, at least, some of them are, and the situations that director David R. Ellis puts his characters in makes us laugh for most of the picture. It plays out more like a comedy than a true thriller, even though we are thrilled by parts of it.
Our plot is incredibly simple. Five men come into the home of Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger), and abduct her. She is taken to a house somewhere outside off the grid, and locked in an attic. Jason Statham comes in and smashes the telephone in the room. (Why a perfectly functional telephone is in the room to begin with is never explained, but just go with it.) After he leaves, Jessica, a high school biology teacher — she’s been given this profession for one scene and one scene only later on in the film — finds the broken telephone and taps wires together in hopes that it will count as dialing numbers. Again, just go with it.
We then cut to our lead, the young Ryan (Chris Evans), who was earlier seen hanging around with his friends at the beach. Oh, and his ex-girlfriend wants him to pick up some t-shirts for a concert later on. That’s important, because you know it’ll come into play later on. His phone rings, and take a guess who’s on the line. It’s Jessica, who tells him that she’s been kidnapped and that he needs to get to the police. For some reason, he doesn’t take it as a prank call, and does just that. This is a harbinger of things to come.
It turns out that the men who kidnapped her want something. (As do all criminals, right?) What the film ends up doing is having Jessica tell Ryan where these terrible men are going, like to find her son or husband, and having Ryan attempt to beat them there. All the while having to stay on a cell phone that may or may not have much charge left. Just like most irresponsible twenty-somethings, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that he doesn’t charge his phone every night.
This gimmick probably shouldn’t make for a successful film, but it does. And what a ride it becomes. As soon as the plot kicks into high-gear, it stays there until the film reaches its conclusion. There isn’t a dull moment to be had as we watch Ryan go from place to place, jumping through hoops in hopes of rescuing Jessica. A police officer gets involved at one point too, and if this film wasn’t made before Batman Begins, I would have been certain that William H. Macy’s cop was inspired by Gary Oldman’s Sgt. Gordon. Maybe the “inspiration” went the other way?
The film poses another interesting question. “How far would you go to save someone you’ve never met, but claims to be in danger?” If you’re Ryan, the answer is an emphatic “very far”, because he gets far more involved than I would have imagined going in. To call him a “Good Samaritan” would be an understatement, even if he does perform some pretty dodgy things in order to get what he wants. But I suppose in something like this, the ends justify the means.
There’s one thing I didn’t like about Cellular, and that was how lazily all of the side-characters were written. Our leads are fine, but all of the secondary characters are all one-dimensional stereotypes. While this does lead to some funny moments, (and I mean really funny; seriously, the best part of this movie involves a prude of a lawyer and his new $80,000 Porshe), it reeks of lazy writing. The secondary villains also get little time to do anything, and it becomes quickly clear that Jason Statham is the only one that will get to do anything fun.
Of Statham, I have only one thing to say: Never try to do an American accent again. While it’s never explicitly stated that he was American, it was obvious to me that he wasn’t using his typical movie-role voice. There were just so many words that came out sounding really funny, and it just didn’t work. He’s a physical presence, which is what is required from him, and he gets an “A” for effort, but the execution was lackluster.
The most surprising part about this film is how much it ends up drawing you in. I was expecting this absurd premise to push me away at every moment, but instead, I was left on the edge of my seat, laughing along with it, while occasionally being thrilled by what was happening on-screen. I can see it not taking itself too seriously pushing some people away, but it captivated me for the entirety of its runtime.
Cellular isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s an engaging film that kept me entertained for 90+ minutes. It’s ridiculous at every turn and never takes itself too seriously, but it’s a riot and an absolute joy to watch. I wasn’t bored at all while watching it, as I was either laughing with it, or enchanted by it. The secondary characters might have been a little bit too chalked full of clichés, but they also get some of the most humorous parts of the movie. Cellular is a complete package that you’ll be glad you watched.