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By Clint Morris | March 20, 2003

Joel Schumacher is a big shot Hollywood director, so what’s he doing making a streetwise indie film? Yet, that’s just what he’s done — sorta — with “Phone Booth.” Just as an arty indie director with no money might do, Schumacher’s gathered a few close friends together and shot a movie in ten days that primarily takes place in and around one exterior location. He even refers to “Phone Booth” as his “dirty old man student film.”
The difference, of course, between Schumacher and our hypothetical indie auteur, is that the former’s friends include the likes of Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Kiefer Sutherland, and Katie Holmes, to name a few, Schumacher schmoozed a studio into financing his film rather than his credit cards, and he had a full crew of professionals on which to draw from, as opposed to the handful of green student volunteers upon which his indie world counterpart might be forced to rely.
Yet — and here’s the shocker — one shouldn’t hold that against the man in this case, because he actually put those resources to surprisingly good use. “Phone Booth” is one kick-a*s little psychological thriller.
Slimy PR maggot Stu Shepard (Farrell) calls his girlfriend from a phone booth on the corner of New York City’s 58th and H Streets. He does this because he doesn’t want his unsuspecting wife to find out about this particular little secret. When the phone rings after he’s completed his call, Stu answers…and hears a voice on the other end that will haunt him for the rest of his days.
The mystery caller, (Sutherland delivers the deliciously evil HAL-like voice with relish) seems to know all about Stu’s life and threatens to kill him if he hangs up the phone. When the sniper shoots a man in a way that makes Stu look responsible, the panicked hot shot finds himself the reluctant and unwitting center of attention of New York’s finest. Forced to perform or say whatever humiliating thing the mystery caller orders, Stu embarks on a psychological battle of wits with his long distance tormentor…and a subtle and deadly game of communication with Whitaker’s sharp-witted police captain.
“Phone Booth” is a devilishly fun film, full of juicy performances, unrelenting tension, and a sense of unpredictability that lasts right up to the very end. Using clever scene-within-a-scene techniques, stylish editing, and multiple camera angles to accelerate and reinforce the narrative, Schumacher takes what could have been a one location bore and makes an immensely entertaining film out of it; something that, alas, most “real” indie directors just can’t do.

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