Phone Booth Review

Colin Farrell has a proto-mullet in “Phone Booth.” Perhaps this is to signify that, as publicist Stu Shepard, he’s too busy providing sleazy clients with services to consult a good barber. More likely, however, is that Shepard is like a regular shmo in any profession: save for a larger profit margin, his mullet brings out his darker side, something that he has reason to be ashamed of.

     It’s not long into this very short film that Shepard is placed into danger. Upon answering a ringing phone at the eponymous location, he is fingered by the caller, an unnamed assassin, who deigns on punishing him for this mean streak, demanding he stay on the line or get shot. Since Shepard is merely guilty of being a bad person to people and meeting with a cute brunette for lunches in lieu of his wife, one thing becomes clear about “Phone Booth:” it’s a film about taking aim at the proto mullet.

     This is where “Phone Booth” becomes a morality play about Hollywood: Stu is a publicist, and that all films about publicists or the media are made to reflect La La Land, he is the manifestation of all that is insincere about Hollywood. Hollywood likes nothing more than to take pokes at themselves, and given Stu’s vices do not include any drug use or spousal abuse, it’s a mystery why he is singled out. That is the film’s greatest flaw but also its strongest point: we can’t really believe Stu’s gonna get it, because inside he’s not a bad man. However, the fact that he’s guilty of transgressions that most of America probably shares, the duality of Shepard also represents the working American.

     Which is why it makes PERFECT sense to cast an Irishman. Colin Farrell has one of the least convincing Noo Yawk accents in movie history, but he is believable as an unwilling target, perfectly in synch with Kiefer Sutherland, who provides the voice of the assassin in an early entry in the “Villain of the Year” sweepstakes. As the unnamed assailant, Sutherland’s cracklingly frightening, almost Faustian line readings are worth the price of admission alone. There is a wonderful throwaway scene where Shepard, falling apart and pleading for mercy, listens to the assassin rattle on about the horrors of Vietnam. *Quasi-Spoiler* (Highlight text to read spoiler) When Shepard desperately lauds him for his sacrifices in the war, the gunman giggles sadistically and admits to making it up. *End of Spoiler* Sutherland’s Satanic guffaw is perhaps the film’s best asset.

     There is a message here about the dependency we have on communication, what the titular item stands for, but it’s lost in dizzying low-budget pyrotechnics by Joel Schumacher, who has amazingly survived two “Batman” films to remain in Hollywood. Also, Shepard answering a ringing phone is meant to stand for something, but the script never makes that connection beyond an out of place voiceover in the early goings by an omniscient narrator. Perhaps in a different time, this film would be made with Jimmy Stewart as Shepard and an angel standing in for the assassin.

     Is “Phone Booth” a commentary? No. Is “Phone Booth” exciting? Definitely. Is it possible that “Phone Booth” is one of the best studio films to emerge this year? Absolutely. But does “Phone Booth” stand out as being vehemently anti-proto-mullet? Indeed it does.

Review by: Gabe Toro

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