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For a cautionary tale issued well past its prime, “Cell” isn’t bad. More a leisurely paced, character-driven drama with horror elements than an outright thriller, “Cell” wants to warn viewers that they have become too attached to their mobile devices. This message was timely back in 2006, when the Stephen King bestseller this film is based on hit bookstores, but it bears some repeating. Besides, there’s mild amusement to be had watching people shuffle around like violent zombies as a result of cell phone usage. The visual metaphor might be considered a bit too "on the nose," but I didn’t mind. I’ve got a big nose, so it fit just fine.
Far more problematic is the film’s occasional lack of storytelling clarity. Those familiar with the book will be able to fill in the blanks. Anyone walking in blind may experience something akin to the temporary, frustrating loss of phone service when one drives through a tunnel. “Cell” appears to play fast and loose with its phone-based affliction, something that might have been cleared up had “Cell” gone the mini-series route like King’s prior novels “Under the Dome” and "11-22-63." Couple this confusion with an unsatisfying, ambiguous ending, and one can see why, despite featuring A-list stars, “Cell” sat on the shelf for two years before getting a limited release.
Escaping into Boston’s subway system, Clay meets up with train conductor Tom (Jackson), forming an alliance that grows into a doomed yet compelling friendship. Joining them on their journey is Alice (Isabelle Furhman), Clay’s shell-shocked neighbor who has just killed her infected mother, and Jordan ( Owen Teague ), the sharpest kid in a prep school whose entire student body has become phoners. Rounding out this motley crew is Jordan’s headmaster, played by Stacy Keach . Not since Wilford Brimley in “Hard Target” have I been so giddy to see an old-saw character actor show up wielding a bow and arrow. Keach’s screen-time is short, but he dominates every scene.