Phone Booth

Did you hear the one about the guy who answered a ringing pay phone, and the guy at the other end of the line said he was watching and had a high-powered rifle? Screenwriter Larry Cohen, one of the most consistently subversive writer-directors of the 1970s, spins this classic, cautionary urban legend into a sharp little entertainment that wraps it up right...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Did you hear the one about the guy who answered a ringing pay phone, and the guy at the other end of the line said he was watching and had a high-powered rifle? Screenwriter Larry Cohen, one of the most consistently subversive writer-directors of the 1970s, spins this classic, cautionary urban legend into a sharp little entertainment that wraps it up right before the single-location gimmick wears thin. Directed with remarkable restraint by Joel Schumacher, this no-frills psychological thriller puts the screws to publicist Stuart Shepard (Colin Farrell), the bastard child of Sammy Glick and Sidney Falco. Striding through the streets of tourist-clogged Times Square trailed by his starry-eyed, unpaid intern, Adam (Keith Nobbs), Stut works his cell phone within an inch of its life, buttering up deluded fame junkies and playing off media whores against each another. But he's also got a standing date at the last phone booth in Manhattan, a battered cubicle on Eighth Avenue with a panoramic view of low-rent hotels and girlie joints with names like Sextuff and Sugar Walls. The booth is where Stu goes to call cutie-pie Pam (Katie Holmes) so his wife, Kelly (Radha Mitchell), won't get suspicious when she checks the cell-phone bill. Then he picks up the receiver to find a smooth-talking psycho (Kiefer Sutherland) ready to play some head games. The caller tells Stu he has a high-powered rifle trained on the booth and he'll kill him if he hangs up. Low-life bully Leon (John Enos III) tries to force Stuart into relinquishing the booth to some mouthy hookers, so the caller picks him off, which brings the sweating Stu to the attention of the police. A phalanx of trigger-happy cops, who think Stu shot Leon, surround the booth with their guns at the ready. Sympathetic but clueless Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker) tries to persuade him to hang up and leave the booth. And the sniper promises to kill Stu or someone else — the street is filled with an ever-expanding crowd of police personnel, onlookers and reporters — if Stu fails to stay on the line and do as he's told. Postponed from its original 2002 release date because a real-life sniper spree in the Washington D.C.-area leached the larky fun right out of its premise, this small-scale thriller has the lean, slightly ragged feel of a '70s exploitation movie. The payoff doesn't quite equal the intensity of the spectacularly squirm-inducing premise, but Farrell takes his showboating star turn and runs with it.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Did you hear the one about the guy who answered a ringing pay phone, and the guy at the other end of the line said he was watching and had a high-powered rifle? Screenwriter Larry Cohen, one of the most consistently subversive writer-directors of the 1970s… (more)

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