John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson team up once again in another parallel universe, with Stephen King’s “Cell”. For aspiring artist Clayton “Clay” Riddell (Cusack), catching a big break has never been his strong suit, and only put undue stress on himself and family. Sick of teaching art instead of making it, he’s finally seeing his dreams come true. As he finalizes a big deal in the city of Boston, Clay prepares for a new life ahead, welcoming a change of pace. But that’s all about to change on one October afternoon, when at one single moment, everyone answers their cell phone, inevitably changing the face of humanity forever. The Pulse as it will be known, reverberates through every cell phone in the world, causing a deadly chain reaction of events. Users suddenly become ultra-violent, homicidal maniacs and begin attacking anyone within proximity. Now all Clay can do, is band together with other survivors and prepare for a new world ahead where society is no more, and replaced by homicidal creatures, who are only beginning to transform into something far worse. But for Clay, the worst is yet to come as he makes the trek across a world changed and into his Maine home, to a wife and son he hasn’t been able to reach after the cataclysmic events that followed.
“Cell” is possibly the very worst Stephen King adaptation that I have ever seen, and that’s really saying a lot considering most of his films get the magic and aura of the books wrong. What is even more eye-opening is that King himself penned the very screenplay to this movie. So what the hell happened? Apparently background on the film set had a lot of communication problems as Cusack wanted to make the film a certain way, and the producers wanted something else all together. All of these problems together made up one of the most truly dreadful and grim movie experiences for me in 2016 so far. The movie lacks any kind of appeal or charm in its story and cast, and really fails to produce anything memorable in the effects department from a production value that was scraping the very bottom of the barrel. From a completely wasted main cast, to an in-cohesive script that got even the tone for the story wrong, “Cell” is one film that you should drop instantly. It’s not even fun for its ridiculous premise or small-screen release to where you could have a little joking humor with it. This one is simply a bore, and there are many directions that I wish to take this review to cover why it truly failed.
First is the script itself, a very mundane and entertainingly inept 98 minutes that feels like it runs out of ideas midway through the film. I actually don’t mind the absurd premise to the film that much, as there’s the potential for fantastic social commentary on our real world and how we depend on phones. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t smart enough to realize this potential, and instead prides itself on being just another zombie film in the post-“Walking Dead” era. What surprises me is how little we truly get to know and understand the backstory and motivations for our characters. Minus Cusack, these often don’t feel like real people; just mindless drones who are every bit as entertaining as the Phoners (Yes, that’s the zombie names in this movie) who travel and screech in repetition. To be honest, I disliked this film, but I didn’t hate it until the final ten minutes. It’s in the ending of this movie where you truly come to terms with just how much time and money you have wasted on this puke. The film leaves a lot open to self-interpretation, and that would be fine if it didn’t feel like the film made zero attempts to answer even one conflict heading into the third act. Nothing is answered, and you received an hour-and-a-half of egg on your face because you subjected yourself to something that totally pisses on the spirit of the novel, which is actually a pretty solid read.
One thing that adds even more to the awful ending and the film all together is the very laughably bad CGI and prosthesis work that adds nothing to the creative spectrum. The effects work and green screen developments would’ve been bad for a 1992 Apple Desktop presentation, and really communicate the kind of little value that went into this film. As for the zombies themselves, there really isn’t much that makes them standout, and I kind of felt that leaving them with no makeup actually was a valuable asset to the surprise factor. There aren’t any jump scares in the film, but I think the movie benefits at least slightly from the zombies looking very much like the humans in terms of skin tone and decomposition, so our main characters would always have to be on the lookout in determining who is affected.
Sadly, the performances also offer very little in the rewards department. Cusack is decent, keeping his performance close to home as the everyman protagonist who suits our needs, but it’s his usual shtick by now. He is one of my favorite actors, therefore I fairly knowledgeable about when he sleeps through a performance, and that’s what you have here. Over the last ten years, Cusack has made some questionable choices with the roles he accepts, and “Cell” will be perhaps the biggest of regrets. Jackson is completely mistreated and relegated to a mere supporting role for the entirety of the movie. Nothing makes his character stand out or even make this seem recognizable as a Samuel L Jackson role. You could’ve had anyone portray this silent walker, not the king of loud charisma. Isabelle Fuhrman brings the strongest of emotional depth to her role, but she isn’t in the movie nearly half enough to make her turn remotely memorable.
Overall, “Cell” deserves a busy signal. It’s a disappointing adaptation that misfires on nearly every single capacity from its much greater literature counterpart. With many films hitting the Video-On-Demand format, this is one whose big screen absence is justified in spades. As a King fan, I’m offended at this movie and Stephen for thinking this was ever acceptable.