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Justin Timberlake and MTV's 'The Phone': Hang on or hang up?

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Oh, Justin Timberlake, curse you and your insidious charm! Would I — and perhaps some of you — have watched the premiere of MTV’s new reality/game show The Phone had Timberlake not been promoting it in his role as an executive producer? Probably not. The wispy-bearded wonder doesn’t appear on camera, but I watched the whole frantic thing to its $50,000-prize conclusion, to see what drew the singer to bring an American version of a Holland game show to the home of The Hills.

Basically a scavenger hunt with the production values of an indie film, The Phone sets two teams of two off on various tasks. They’re given their orders via cell-phone calls from The Operator — actually heavily-Irish-accented actor Emmett J. Scanlan, and shouldn’t he really be called The Caller? Anyway, the game began with a car bursting into flames in Seattle and included one contestant crawling around the rim of that city’s tall Space Needle, pawing around for clues.

The Phone has some fundamental things going against it. Exploding cars in public places, and having prize-hungry people search for a “mad bomber” before he strikes again — well, that’s just plain creepy and cynical, playing on our fears of acts of public terror.

It also commits a lesser — but on jumpy, ADD-addled MTV unforgivable — sin: at an hour, it’s too long to sustain interest. While I wanted to know if the two finalists would achieve their goal and win the money (and prevent Seattle from being fake-blown-up), the only thing that kept me going toward the end were the show’s commercials. Don’t you kinda really want to see Beyonce kick Ali Larter’s ass in Obsessed this weekend? And what’s up with that happily ditzy commercial for cotton starring, and with music sung by, Zooey Deschanel?

Did you watch The Phone? Would you watch it again? Did it creep you out at all?