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Dial M for mayhem

Kim Basinger's life is on the line in the ludicrous 'Cellular.'

"Cellular" wastes little time in setting up its high-concept premise. Two minutes after the opening credits, Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) is kidnapped from her home, driven to a remote location, and imprisoned in an attic. Oddly, the kidnappers don't bother to tie her up. (Isn't that rule No. 1 in "Kidnapping for Dummies"?)

The lead villain does, however, take the precaution of smashing the loft's dial phone with a sledge hammer. By the time he's finished making a Humpty Dumpty out of the receiver, one is convinced that not even MacGyver and an AT&T toolbox could get a dial tone out of it. Yet Jessica, now alone in the room, merely taps two copper wires together like a pair of jumper cables and manages to call a random number. (By now the movie had become so absurd that I half expected Carrot Top to pop onscreen to admonish Jessica for not calling collect.)

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The stranger who answers her call is Ryan (Chris Evans), a cellphone-toting slacker who hangs out on the beach. At first, any long-distance relationship between Jessica and Ryan seems doomed. He initially thinks she's a prank caller. Worse, Ryan's ex-girlfriend has already accused him of being irresponsible, self-centered, and childish. But when it becomes apparent that the voice on the other end of the line isn't kidding, he resolves to save her without doing anything to jeopardize the fragile connection signal. That means no driving through tunnels. Plus, he needs a cellphone charger - and fast.

If the plot has a familiar ring, it's because the story is by Larry Cohen who also penned "Phone Booth," the 2002 movie in which a man answers a ringing public phone only to be told that he will be shot by a nearby sniper if he hangs up.

But where "Phone Booth" created a self-contained world that made viewers buy into its taut premise, "Cellular" dilutes any suspense by cramming its plot with contrivances. An overly earnest, shrill Kim Basinger doesn't garner any audience sympathy, either. Unlike veteran actor William H. Macy - who plays a meek cop - she doesn't seem to get how hokey the movie is. Fortunately Macy and newcomer Evans are a hoot - even if they are phoning in their performances.

Rated PG-13 for violence and language.


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