Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
For a cautionary tale issued well past its prime, “Cell” isn’t bad. More a leisurely paced, character-driven drama with horror elements than an outright thriller, “Cell” wants to warn viewers that they have become too attached to their mobile devices. This message was timely back in 2006, when the Stephen King bestseller this film is based on hit bookstores, but it bears some repeating. Besides, there’s mild amusement to be had watching people shuffle around like violent zombies as a result of cell phone usage. The visual metaphor might be considered a bit too "on the nose," but I didn’t mind. I’ve got a big nose, so it fit just fine.
Far more problematic is the film’s occasional lack of storytelling clarity. Those familiar with the book will be able to fill in the blanks. Anyone walking in blind may experience something akin to the temporary, frustrating loss of phone service when one drives through a tunnel. “Cell” appears to play fast and loose with its phone-based affliction, something that might have been cleared up had “Cell” gone the mini-series route like King’s prior novels “Under the Dome” and "11-22-63." Couple this confusion with an unsatisfying, ambiguous ending, and one can see why, despite featuring A-list stars, “Cell” sat on the shelf for two years before getting a limited release.
With a bigger budget and a longer runtime, “Cell” could easily have been elevated above its current station as a worthy 2 AM viewing on cable—not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s cursed with some really cheap CGI, but blessed with actors who are game for, and respect, the material. “Cell” reunites John Cusack with Samuel L. Jackson for their second King feature together (after the superb “1408”), and both turn in good performances. Jackson is particularly effective, going the subdued route when larger-than-life Jackson would have been, in this case, completely understandable. Cusack wears the weight of his character, Clay’s divorce on his shoulders in every frame; his emotional, desperate attempts to reunite with his ex-wife and son drive the narrative once all hell breaks loose.
Hell chooses Logan Airport for its coming out party. A mysterious pulse suddenly turns every traveler using a cell phone into a raging, violent lunatic. These people aren’t zombies, as they’re not dead, but they have all the familiar cinematic characteristics of fast-moving zombies. “Cell” calls these people "phoners." Caught in the ensuing phoner carnage is Cusack’s Clay, whose cell phone battery goes kaput just before the pulse hits. When people start killing each other, Clay is on a pay phone that is as reminiscently old school as this film’s pacing. Unfortunately, Clay was speaking to his wife, Sharon (Clark Sarullo) on her cell phone. This only fuels Clay’s desire to get to Sharon’s New Hampshire address once he realizes the pulse is a nationwide event.