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Can you hear me now? Basinger in Cellular.

I Got the Hook-Up
By Ann Morrow

Directed by David R. Ellis

Directed with careless, cheeky energy by David R. Ellis, Cellular is sort of a reversal of Phone Booth. Instead of being held hostage by a malevolent caller, Ryan (Chris Evans) is connected through his cell phone to a desperate kidnap victim. Though based on a story by Phone Booth writer Larry Cohen, Cellular doesn’t have the psychological suspense of that movie; instead, the amateurish screenplay (by first-timer Chris Morgan) is driven by throwaway humor and clever twists based on the title technology. Presumably, the movie is about an unlikely Good Samaritan. Possibly accidentally, it winds up being breezy, cheesy fun.

Ryan is a beach dude who gets dumped by his girlfriend because he’s irresponsible (Evans starts out by redialing his role in Not Another Teen Movie). Cruising down a Los Angeles freeway, he gets a call from a distraught woman claiming that she has been kidnapped for no reason. The woman, Jessica (Kim Basinger), who lives in a Brentwood mansion, has indeed been kidnapped, by three professional-type thugs who dragged her off to an unknown location. A science teacher, she rewires a broken phone and randomly reaches Ryan, who assumes the call is a prank, until the desperation in her voice convinces him otherwise. “They’re going to kill me, you’re my only hope,” she tells him in one of the less clichéd lines of dialogue.

Ryan takes his cell phone to the police station, where he is brushed off, thus beginning a series of shamelessly contrived action scenarios. When his phone runs low on power, he holds up a cellular store during its grand opening. Then he hijacks a Porsche belonging to a hilariously shallow L.A. lawyer in order to chase the bad guys, who have made off with Jessica’s young son. Jason Statham as the ringleader doesn’t have much to do other than menacing Jessica with threats to kill her family, but William H. Macy, as a bored, burned-out detective planning his retirement, more than makes up for it. Cast absurdly against type in a typical late-stage Clint Eastwood role, Macy—the penultimate hangdog—is drolly comic (perhaps unintentionally), especially when soaring through the air horizontally with his gun a-firing.

There’s also a nifty bit regarding Jessica’s knowledge of anatomy, which she uses to fend off one of the thugs. And Evans does give the impression that Ryan is so caught up in his own daring that he’s compelled to ever-greater involvement. It also seems as though Ellis, a former stuntman, was having such a good time with the tricky opportunities of telecommunications and with Morgan’s sneaky sense of humor that he either didn’t notice or didn’t care that Ryan’s single-handed efforts to rescue Jessica are flat-out preposterous. Audiences would do well not to notice, either. Laughs at the movies this summer have been few and far between, so enjoy ’em when you get ’em.

Stop Looking at Me

Facing Windows
Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek

How trite they sound: pat sayings like “Be careful what you wish for” and “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Most of us can remember a parent intoning those sentiments to us, just as we remember responding with a groan of annoyance. Later, such warnings flew in the face of actions which, we insisted, proved our independence or signified our unwillingness to conform. And then, as we matured, we realized that those sayings bore more than a kernel of cold, hard truth.

Director Ferzan Ozpetek plays with that notion in Facing Windows, in which 29-year-old Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzagiorno), an unhappily married mother of two who works as an accountant at a chicken factory, enjoys spying out her kitchen window into the apartment of Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), a handsome bank manager. Unbeknownst to her, Lorenzo has been staking out Giovanna as well. The two finally meet when Giovanna is assisting an aged amnesiac, Simone (Massimo Girotti), whom her kindhearted husband Filippo (Filippo Nigro) has brought home—and left. The instant connection felt by the two would-be lovebirds is palpable, particularly as together they try to unravel the mystery of Simone’s past, a past that includes hints of forbidden love and broken hearts.

For all its swelling music (a lush and gorgeous score by Andrea Guerra) and scenes of Italian café life, much of Facing Windows is grounded in the mundane reality of Giovanna’s and Lorenzo’s respective situations. Adrift in a lifeless marriage in which both partners blame the other for their disappointments, stifled in her work situation (she’d rather be a pastry chef) and strapped by the lack of freedom that, seemingly, money could provide, Giovanna is tempted to succumb to Lorenzo’s passion for her. The director films the moments of Giovanna’s life in such a way as to make us sense the smell of other people’s cooking that lingers in her apartment, just as we hear the sounds of other people’s televisions or stereos filtering in and enveloping Giovanna and Filippo as they argue or make love. Eventually, Ozpetek employs a Rear Window facsimile, to the point that, when Lorenzo rhapsodizes about how long he has observed Giovanna, she finds a new appreciation for the life she would so willingly toss aside.

The movie’s dual storyline, told in flashbacks, touches upon the Holocaust and intolerance, with the newly restored Simone regaling Giovanna with tales of love and loss, exhorting her not to waste time dreaming of a better life but to go out and make that better life happen. The filmmaker’s attempt to merge these two love stories, separated by decades, is admittedly weak; we realize that Simone’s lost love weighs heavily on him, and that his heart is full of longing and remorse, but we never get the sensation that Giovanna’s and Lorenzo’s brief interlude has the same permanence. Striving to make the connection confounds the problem by making the viewer vaguely aware that perhaps Lorenzo’s constant gawking at his beloved is, well, creepy. And then Ozpetek switches gears altogether, giving us something like the Food Network, Roma style, with Simone and Giovanna happily concocting creamy bombes and tortes. This unevenness further dilutes the little touches of reality and simple grace that the movie had accomplished, and merely reminds us that this is a story whose shelf life isn’t much longer than one of Simone’s baked delicacies.

—Laura Leon

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