It’s easy to have rancor towards director Joel Schumacher, considering the fact that he was largely responsible for the demise of the “Batman” series. While no cinematic feat will ever be capable of absolving such sins, his newest project, “Phone Booth,” gives audiences good reason to rekindle their faith in him.

Although his techniques were misused in the caped-crusader films, Schumacher has a unique talent for frenetic camera work and explosive energy. This energy, coupled with an innovative plot, makes “Phone Booth” especially enjoyable.

Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a suave entertainment publicist who admittedly rubs elbows with the most notable stars; he rises to the top in a business that deems cunning and chicanery virtues. He is married to Kelly (Radha Mitchell), but their busy schedules often prohibit them from seeing one another. To enjoy time spent away from his wife, Stu develops a relationship with Pamela (Katie Holmes), a young, aspiring actress.

Stu spends the film’s opening 15 minutes cruising the streets of New York, talking on his cell phone and establishing himself as bastard extraordinaire. Schumacher uses clever inlay shots of the people on the receiving end and establishes an interactive screen that intensifies the atmosphere and prepares viewers well for the ensuing thrills.

At the time of his usual lunch break, Stu diverts to an isolated phone booth in a seedy section of New York. Upon finishing his daily call to his mistress, someone calls the phone booth, and out of sheer curiosity, Stu answers. Kiefer Sutherland’s gritty, intriguing voice speaks to Stu, telling him that leaving the phone booth will result in his imminent death.

From said point onward, Stu is unable to leave the booth. This may seem a difficult task and a potential nuisance, but Farrell plays his role extremely well, and the isolated setting becomes a great strength.

Stu’s moral shortcomings are revealed in full, as the caller – who is watching Stu from a sniper’s perch – harangues him about his sins and crimes against humanity. Stu begins the film a pretentious shark who cares nothing for others, but by the conclusion, he is a humbled man seeking to redeem himself in the eyes of all he has wronged. Furthermore, the character of Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker) experiences a similar relational crisis and helps viewers to sympathize better with Stu. These struggles the characters face are characteristically human and only deepen the poignancy of this film.

All things said, the technical strength of “Phone Booth” as a thriller is its strongest asset. The aforementioned frenzied camerawork adds greatly to the confusion, providing the looming enigma of the sniper’s whereabouts and makes “Phone Booth” function proficiently while striking moral chords uncommon to its genre.

3 1/2 Stars

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