Director: Joel Schumacher. US. 2002. 80mins

A slick, Twilight Zone-style premise is stretched to the limit of narrative credibility in Phone Booth, a trim, trashy little thriller that reunites the Tigerland team of director Joel Schumacher and star Colin Farrell. A compelling central performance and energetic direction serve to distract from the insubstantial nature of the enterprise, but they aren't enough to render it a first choice, must-see theatrical attraction either in the US, where it opens on Nov 15, or in international territories. Ancillary prospects should prove much more pleasing.

Written by low-budget exploitation maestro Larry Cohen, Phone Booth has attracted a number of A-list talents over the years, including Jim Carrey. Having regained his career momentum with a pugnacious supporting performance in box-office hit Minority Report, Colin Farrell justifies his current Hollywood 'It' boy status by rising to the challenge of an intensely demanding role that has him on screen for every scene.

An obnoxious, hotshot publicist, with a hint of Sweet Smell Of Success's Sidney Falco in his gene pool, Stu Shepard (Farrell) is a smooth operator first seen striding the streets of New York juggling mobile phones and demanding clients with ruthless aplomb. Married but happily working his charms on aspiring actress Pam (Holmes), he heads for a lone public phone booth in the seedy heart of the city to make the kind of romantic call that will leave no tell-tale record on any account. When the call is finished, the phone rings, he hastily answers and hears the velvety tones of a villainous Kiefer Sutherland informing him that a gun is pointed directly at him and failure to do exactly as he is told will result in death. Thus, the stage is set for an escalating cat-and-mouse encounter that will eventually involve Pam, Shepard's wife Kelly (Mitchell), sympathetic police office Ramey (Whitaker) and a prime-time public siege situation.

Schumacher uses every trick in the book to try and disguise the fact that Phone Booth is a fairly pedestrian encounter between a psycho killer sniper and a far from innocent victim who is asked to weigh up his morality against his mortality. Split screens, rapid editing and an accelerated time frame are among the fireworks that Schumacher ignites to lend the story a restless, urban energy and maintain audience interest. A streak of gallows humour and a trim running time are further factors in ensuring that the film never outstays its welcome, however far-fetched and predictable it may become. There is still ample time to pick holes in the plot though and ponder why the authorities wouldn't just shut down the phone line rather than allowing events to mushroom out of control into a media scrum.

Seen only in the closing moments of the film, Sutherland's hypnotic vocal contribution gives his villain some character. Sporting another impeccable American accent, Farrell shows some range, as the beleaguered Stu crashes from arrogance to anguish. His hard-working, committed performance lends a human touch to what otherwise might have seemed an entirely soulless exercise in Naked City storytelling.

Prod co: 20th Century Fox
US dist:
20th Century Fox
Gil Netter, David Zucker
Exec prod:
Ted Kurdyla
Scr: Larry Cohen
Matthew Libatique
Prod des:
Andrew Laws
Mark Stevens
Harry Gregson-Williams
Main cast:
Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell, Kiefer Sutherland