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It’s been a long time coming for the film adaptation of STEPHEN KING’s CELL (WATCH IT HERE). We first heard about it in 2006 with ELI ROTH attached as director. Then nothing happened and more nothing happened and Roth left the project in 2009. Tod Williams eventually jumped onboard the and the film was shot in 2014 to then sit on the shelf (distribution shuffle) until now… so was it worth the wait? Not really. It’s too bad cause when I read the book eons ago, I remember thinking: this will make for a pretty badass movie someday. I’m not sure what happened, but the end result was anemic, lazy and all over the place. But before I drop the axe, allow me to focus on some of the more positive elements!
The first 20 minutes or so (i.e. the epidemic breaks out) of CELL were fairly intense and I can’t say that I was ever bored throughout my watch. There was enough action and violence to satisfy and the film sported a couple of “ripper scenes” that carried some major punch (with the soccer field bit being my fav)! Having actors like John Cusack and Samuel Jackson in the lead also helped keep my attention. Even though both of them were somewhat on “auto pilot” throughout (most of Cusack's acting was done by his black beanie); they still commanded the screen. Personally it was swell to see Jackson play an actual “human being” again as opposed to the loudmouth quasi caricatures he’s been stuck tackling for the last 5 years or so. I tend to forget that Jackson is more than just a superior slick talker. He’s actually an actor with lots of depth when given the meat to chew on.
He didn’t have to stretch much here, but he still came through and then some for me. That’s just how good and charismatic the dude is. Orphan’s Isabelle Fuhrman rounded out the main cast nicely. Grounded and likeable. Finally, the good ideas weren’t lost on me (cell phone users = zombies… oh so true) while director Tod Williams (and his DP) pulled off a handful visceral bits, I dug his use of hand held and suspense was in the house now and again – which was somewhat of a feat taking into account the mess the movie was. Yup, there was simply too much that played against the film for it to be fulfilling, starting with the obvious low budget.
Hard to sell a large scale apocalyptic Stephen King zombie flick when all the coin is in the stars pockets instead of on the screen. The result; dodgy CGI that cheapened the whole (that digital smoke was appalling), “extras” that weren’t always convincing as mindless Zombies and bland looking “deserted” locations that looked often enough like a corner of my backyard. And was I alone in finding the cinematography to be too freaking drab? I know they were going for gritty, but they wound up landing on the cheap/boring square instead. But the biggest problem here was the way the narrative was laid out. Instead of coming off as a whole, the story was oddly conveyed in blocks (Crappy edit?), jumping from here to there with little to no momentum or cohesion. You didn’t feel that the narrative was forging towards anything – shit just happened here and there and I was supposed to care.
Moreover, the vagueness that came with the WHO, WHAT and WHY worked in the book but didn't translate well to the screen. As a viewer, I had nothing to hold on to. And whatever ace they they did have up their sleeve (like the villain Raggedy Man that was so creepy in the book but completely mishandled here) was wasted due to the half-cocked execution. By the time the mind numbingly stupid ending kicked in (yes I dug the ambiguous one in the book more) and the end credits rolled, the first thoughts out of my one brain cell was: MEH.