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Also opening: The busy signal as plot

Published September 9, 2004

Screenwriter Larry Cohen must have a beef with the telephone company. He devised a nifty conundrum for 2002's thriller Phone Booth by trapping Colin Farrell in the titular location with a sniper waiting to kill him if he tried to escape. Meanwhile, he wrote the first version of Cellular (PG-13), about a man trapped on his cell phone during a kidnapping.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Cohen's friends told him that he had written the same story twice. Producers handed Cellular over to screenwriter Chris Morgan (and two uncredited polishers) to create the version that reaches screens Friday. That can be considered Hollywood's version of directory assistance.

Cellular begins with a man named Ryan (newcomer Chris Evans) receiving an emergency call from a stranger (Kim Basinger), who claims to have been kidnapped. She believes the perpetrators are going for her husband and child next. The woman doesn't know where she is hidden, time is running out, and so is the battery in Ryan's cellular phone. Can he hear her now?

Something tells me - okay, a lot of movies have informed me - that the situation isn't what it appears to be. I'm betting that Basinger's character is either a liar or a telemarketer using insidious means to keep a fish on the line. Cellular wasn't screened in time for Weekend, but a review will be published Friday on page 2B.

Theaters' loss, game players' gain?

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (R) is yet another video game converted to the silver screen, a sequel to 2002's Resident Evil, which barely broke even at the box office. Home video was another story, though, as joystick jockeys apparently preferred to see the movie in familiar TV dimensions, possibly to pick up game tips.

Basically, the sequel's reported $50-million cost is an advertising budget for the upcoming DVD release and video game sales. It's smart business, but is it worthwhile cinema?

Nobody knows, because Screen Gems declined to show Resident Evil: Apocalypse to most critics until tonight, too late for opening day reviews. We know that Milla Jovovich, a favorite of sci-fi geeks since her Band-Aid costume in The Fifth Element, returns as Alice, again trapped in the company of flesh-eating zombies. This time she also faces a biological weapon code-named Nemesis, which happens to be the name of another Resident Evil video game version.

Alice will use diplomacy and cool-headed resolve to defeat the enemy. Heck, who are we kidding? She will paint the walls with those punks. That's entertainment?

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