Proving that no new technology has truly arrived until it gets its own thriller, Cellular makes anxious use of mobile phones. Kidnapped almost before the previews of coming attractions have ended—but not before the script clumsily establishes her career as a science teacher—Kim Basinger uses a smashed phone to make contact with a state-of-the-art Nokia belonging to random Los Angeles resident Chris Evans. Breathlessly detailing her predicament and emphasizing that if the call gets cut off she won't be able to contact him or anyone else ever again, Basinger steers Evans toward the nearest police station. There, he finds a sympathetic ear in William H. Macy, a cop due to retire that same day. But goshdarnit if a gang war doesn't erupt in the station's holding area, and walking all the way up to the fourth-floor homicide department would mean losing the call, and, gee, that battery indicator's starting to look pretty low.
As shameless as it sounds—and it gets even more shameless when a cute kid and a handsome husband are sucked into the drama—the film works by putting the accelerator to the floor and never looking in the rear-view mirror. Adapted from a Larry Cohen story that essentially inverses his Phone Booth premise, child actor turned stuntman turned director David R. Ellis keeps the film moving at a pace that lets questions like "Why doesn't he just go to a different police station?" wait until after the credits. Ellis wants nothing more than to create some gritty, B-movie thrills, and his film throws in just enough humor, like the inspired robbery of a cell-phone charger, to make everyone believe he knows what he's doing.
The cast keeps up with him, too. Required to remain in hysterics from the first reel to the last, Basinger somehow stays convincing, while Macy finds a part that allows him to indulge both his tough-guy Mametisms and his ineffectual side. He may be the first action hero to beat up the bad guys and wear an avocado facemask. A lesser actor might have hinted that the material is beneath him, but Macy keeps a straight face. Like the entertaining film around him, he understands that sometimes aiming low makes it that much easier to hit the target.