At its most basic, 'Cellular' is a Hitchcockian formula hyped up for a more modern audience. Hitchcock liked putting ordinary people into extraordinary life-or-death situations. 'Cellular' uses that same formula by sticking regular Ryan (Chris Evans) smack-dab in the middle of a kidnapping, when he happens to take a call on his cell phone from a woman named Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) who insists that she's going to be killed if Ryan doesn't help her. The story comes from 'Phone Booth' writer Larry Cohen who is able to channel some of that unseen paranoid terror into this film.
'Cellular' hit theaters in 2004, but it's amazing how fast a movie like this can become dated, simply because the gimmick here is the power of mobile phones. The technology changes so fast that the phone Ryan is carrying around most of the movie might as well be that giant brick of a phone that Zack had in 'Saved by the Bell.'
Jessica has been taken by a bunch of mean, mysterious men led by Ethan (Jason Statham). Jessica doesn't know what they want, but they sure think she can help them. Jessica is abducted and thrown into the loft area of an old dilapidated house. One of the old beams contains a land-line. Why someone put a land-line up in that loft when it's evident no one ever actually used it is still a mystery. That doesn't matter though, because Ethan promptly walks in with a giant sledge hammer and shatters the phone. He could've been like every other movie bad guy and ripped the phone away from the wall, cord and all, but apparently the sledgehammer makes more of an impact. Had he ripped the phone away, things may have turned out differently for him.
In the wreckage Jessica, a high school biology teacher, pieces together the remnants of the destroyed phone. She taps wires together hoping that it will call out. It does. On the other end of the line is Ryan, a cocky self-assured twenty-something who never takes anything seriously. Ryan soon finds himself in a race across Los Angeles trying to find Jessica before it's too late.
'Cellular' with all its faults, is actually pretty thrilling. Once Ryan gets the call, he basically tears across L.A. causing accidents wherever he goes. There is a subplot involving William H. Macy as a cop, Sgt. Bob Mooney that happens to be one of those subplots that at times, seems a bit more interesting than the main story. Mooney wants to start a day spa when he retires from the police force. "I really wish we could get a movie starring William H. Macy as a retired cop running a day spa," was what I kept thinking the whole time watching 'Cellular.'
Even though the movie has taken the basic premise of many a Hitchcock film, it fails to build suspense like those films. This is all about fast-moving action. Car chases, gun battles, and fist fights. It does happen to be fairly tightly-wound, and the story moves quite briskly through its set pieces. The terror expressed by Evans and Basinger feels genuine.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This catalogue Warner Bros. release comes in a standard eco-friendly keepcase. It's a Region A release and is on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc.
'Cellular' offers a steady, solid 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. Underneath the baking Los Angeles sun, the movie burns with brightly vivid colors, except in the dark, low-lit loft Jessica is locked in. Outside the detail is strong. The daylight accentuates all manner of facial and textual details. Sweat forms on Ryan's brow, each hair is visible on Macy's broom-shaped mustache, and Statham's perpetual stubble is clearly defined.
The darker scenes of Jessica's imprisonment are filled with competently rendered shadows. It's easy to see tears well up and trickle down her face. Even though shadows are dominating the picture it doesn't mean that detail is crushed out. On the contrary, the shadows accentuate facial features like pores and Basinger's pouty lips.
The movie is on a 25GB disc, but I didn't notice any issues with compression. Banding and aliasing were kept at bay. There were a few instances of shimmering on hair and clothing, but nothing too terrible. 'Cellular' looks great in high-def.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mix is just as nice as the video presentation. Here we get thrown right into the mix as Ryan whizzes down crowded L.A. streets. Cars zoom by on both sides with their sound being carried to the rear speakers. One such scene, where Ryan drives down the wrong side of the road, is a great example of the mix's directional ability along with how panning effects work. As Ryan speeds down the roads cars honk and careen out of the way, going right and left. The sounds of those fleeing cars and echoing horns travel from front to rear as Ryan cuts down the middle of the road. It's a great sounding sequence.
LFE is needed for the suspenseful soundtrack along with numerous gun shots and an explosion or two. When a semi T-bones Ryan's car he was just driving a gigantic boom rattles the room. Dialogue is always clear even when Jessica has to whisper instructions to Ryan so her kidnappers don't hear her. This mix places you right in the middle of the action and doesn't let go.
'Cellular' is thrilling enough to keep you engaged, even if watching a movie about cell phone technology close to a decade ago seems strange. There are some decent performances here. The video and audio presentations will delight many. Now, all we have to do is wonder when we'll get that spin-off movie about Mooney's day spa shenanigans. I can't wait.