By Owen Gleiberman
September 08, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Cellular: Richard Foreman, SMPSP/ New Line Cinema
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If you go to enough thrillers, activities that should look extreme begin, instead, to appear entertainingly ordinary. In Cellular, there is kidnapping, armed robbery, homicide, and a car chase down the wrong side of the freeway, not to mention some criminally low-rent dialogue, all compacted with machine efficiency.

In the opening moments of Cellular, Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger), a high school science teacher, is kidnapped out of her nice Brentwood home and taken to a grungy attic, where she attempts to save herself by rubbing together the wires of a smashed telephone. It works: She randomly dials the cell phone of a beach bum named Ryan (Chris Evans), imploring him to stay on the line and go to the police. Before long, he is whipping around Los Angeles in a variety of stolen vehicles, hanging on the line in the same frantic way that Colin Farrell did in ”Phone Booth” — only this time, he’s the savior rather than victim, and he couldn’t be less stationary.

Based on a story by Larry Cohen (who also wrote ”Phone Booth”), ”Cellular” plays its telecommunication premise less for novelty than for pure chase-thriller excitement. It’s like the madly busy climax of an action film stretched out to feature length. It’s fun to see Ryan burst into a cellular store and brandish a handgun to get to the front of the line before his battery runs out, and the film keeps zigzagging in new directions, even if its individual parts feel far from new. It’s fortunate that the actors know exactly what they’re doing. Chris Evans is blithely likable despite a few faux-Cruise mannerisms, Basinger makes a vividly frightened yet resourceful woman in peril, and William H. Macy scores as a mild L.A. cop who lets out his inner macho.

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  • 89 minutes
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