Cell (2016)

Reviewed by Mitch Burns

Directed by: Tod Williams

Starring: John Cusack, Samul L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Owen Teague, Alex Ter Avest, and Stacey Keach.


The last time John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson teamed up to bring a Stephen King novel to the screen was 2007’s 1408. Many considered that a success, and Stephen King novels have a sordid history of not making great films, so maybe Cusack and Jackson should have stopped while they were ahead.

Cell has a sordid and painful path to the big screen. Dimension films purchased the film rights for Stephen Kings bestseller in 2006, the same year the book was published. It was announced that Eli Roth would direct after finishing Hostel 2,  Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski  were hired to write the script. In 2007, Roth began to have doubts about directing Cell, and it wasn’t until 2009 that it was confirmed that he wouldn’t direct it. Talk about development hell.

Surprisingly, Stephen King announced in 2009 that he had written a screenplay with Adam Alleca (Last House on the Left). This saddens me, as it seems that King REALLY wanted a Cell film adaptation, and a good one. Now, listen to this timeline, in 2012 Cusack was signed on, in 2013 it was announced that Paranormal Activity 2 director Tod Williams would be directing and it was also announced that Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Cusack’s co-star. Then, 5 months later Isabelle Fuhrman and Stacey Keach were cast and filming began and ended in January 2014.
Then it took them 2 and a half years to release the bloody thing. It took Ten years to turn Stephen Kings novel into 90 minutes of pure garbage.

The film follows Clay Riddell (Cusack) who’s just landed at an airport and is talking on his cellphone with his estranged wife and son. lucky for Clay, his phone battery dies seconds before a signal is emitted from all cell phone’s worldwide, turning anyone listening to the signal into zombie like killing machines. The airport quickly turns into a blood-soaked mayhem, as the “Phoners” begin killing anyone not effected by the signal.

The logic here is mystifying, The noise turns any human listening to it into a killing machine that mimics a bird and makes the noises of dial-up internet. How do these “Phoners” know who’s affected or not? How close would you have to be to the signal in order to be turned? suspend disbelief people.

Riddell escapes the airport, and quickly meets up with two other survivors Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alice Maxwell (Isabelle Fuhrman). Together the three survivors must traverse a new landscape where from sunrise to sunset they are being hunted.

Now, it sounds incredibly interesting, I gave it a chance on the IMDB description alone, but sadly it’s all pretty dull. Never have I ever felt like a movie was merely a collection of scenes mushed together. You can almost hear the director calling “Action” and “Cut” and “That’s a wrap”.

No pun intended, but Jackson and Cusack “phone” their performances in, neither of them are happy to be their, and it’s painfully obvious. Then there’s Poor Isabelle Fuhrman who apparently had a small role in the first Hunger Games. She was probably stoked to get the female lead in a Stephen King adaptation with Cusack and Jackson, and she acts her heart out, but it falls flat and this won’t be the breakthrough role she had hopped for.

Cell bumps along, characters are introduced suddenly and then dead without even a shrug from the other characters. Cusack is supposedly on a desperate hunt to find his wife and son, and I honestly forgot that’s what they were doing. The characters goals are rarely talked about, although maybe it was, I just couldn’t believe that such little emotion could come from a father (Cusack) fighting to save his life and desperately hoping his wife and son are alright. I assume Cusack would have the same facial expression when ordering a footlong at Subway.

The budget and Box Office figures are M.I.A, but the special effects feel incredibly low budget. There is an opening sequence in an airport that’s quite intense, even with Cusack standing in the middle of it all looking like a stunned idiot, although it’s stuff you see on TV almost nightly.

The reason Cell doesn’t get an F is because several times I did feel creep-ed out. Several portions of the film have a creep factor and that surprised me. The overall idea of the story was interesting, but that can all be attributed to Stephen King. In Actuality, King changed much of his original story for the film adaptation. Once the movie ended I went to Wikipedia and read the plot for the book, and it seemed a very different story, especially the end.

Speaking of the end? It felt…well, dumb. It left unanswered questions, left me feeling very unfulfilled and displeased. The sad part is, Stephen King wasn’t a fan of the original ending of his novel so he changed it to this. Completely baffling in my opinion.

I’m fairly certain that Cusack and Jackson are happy this wasn’t the hit Stephen King hoped it would be…

Grade: D+

Thanks for Reading!

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