I have been a huge Stephen King fan all my life, I think I have probably said that about a dozen times since beginning this blog, but that doesn't make it less true. I love his work, although I am more a fan of his older work than I am a lot of his newer stuff. He just can't match up a story like he used to. With that said, I gave newer Stephen King a shot ten years ago when Cell came out. Cell was Stephen King's version of a zombie story, but with cell phones. Its amazingly eerie to think back reading that book in 2006, just on the eve of the cell phone craze and meditate on how relevant a movie adaptation would be today. So many of us have essentially become slaves to our cell phones that it wouldn't be surprising if they did kill us one day.
Cell, the novel, was a book that started off surprisingly awesome, then began to fall short as it went on. It was almost like Stephen King had a really good, really haunting, really strange story on his mind but it somehow got away from him, so he tacked on a frustrating ending. My experience with the book made me more curious about this film adaptation more than anything. Could a film crew right the book's wrongs? Could the movie be the grand metaphor King saw coming ten years earlier? I hoped for the best, and when I heard that John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson (I'll admit, I actually have a soft spot for "1408," another King adaptation both these actors starred in) were on board, I got a little bit giddy. But I took pause, I knew how long this film has been played around with and sometimes when a movie hits VOD, its usually not a good sign.
While I love "Stand By Me," "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile" and even "The Shining," I detest most Stephen King adaptations, whether they are on the silver screen or small screen. I am not sure how a writer with such a creative mind can't have his own work adapted properly. I think to myself, is Stephen King one of the greats whose work will never fit another medium? I am starting to think more and more that this revelation maybe true, because "Cell" the movie isn't very good.
I'll say this, "Cell" has got some good moments in it. There are some memorable parts of the book that are adapted beautifully. I think Cusack and Jackson make an outstanding team and they certainly came to play when they signed on for this. But much how I felt about the book, the movie "Cell" opens with all barrels blazing, then slows down to become a lazy and somewhat of a predictable affair. Plus, the ending they substituted for the book ending is such a huge cop-out that I almost couldn't believe what I saw once the credits rolled. The movie seems convinced that it must bulldoze through its running time to showcase the "greatest hits" from the book that anything resembling a movie goes out the window. Its too bad, because I think the opportunity to make something haunting, entertaining, and relevant to today was all here, but nothing was made out of it.
Cusack plays Clay Riddell, a graphic novel writer who finally got his big break with a publishing company in Boston. His estranged family lives in New Hampshire, and he really wants to go back to them and work things out. Too bad, because suddenly the world goes crazy. Somebody somewhere releases a pulse across all cell phone lines, which turns anybody using their cell phone into raging killer. They aren't dead per se, but they are like the infected from the "28 Days Later" movies, just with superpowers. The "phoners" as they are referred to, start to become a hive-mind and they turn healthy humans into "phoners" at will. The opening scene of the movie takes place in the airport, instead of the Boston downtown from the book, but much like the book, this is the best scene in the entire movie. It sets the stage perfectly for one crazy thrill ride of a movie.
Clay meets Tom (Jackson) and Alice (Isabelle Furhman), the threesome forms a bond that protects one another. But all Clay really wants is to head back to New Hampshire to make sure his family is okay, Tom and Alice agree to follow him. The rest of the movie feels like episodes of "The Walking Dead" stacked on top of each other. The trio goes to a place, bad things happen, they leave. Within the hour and a half running time, it never really feels like much is accomplished. Plus with such a short run-time, the book is never properly adapted. The King of the Internet wasn't a character in the book, but he's based off of The Raggedy Man, who was the book's Big Bad. The King of the Internet should have had a huge spotlight in this movie. But sadly, he appears a couple of times and then he's gone. Its a huge waste of a central character that could have been horrifying if developed correctly.
And again, there is the ending. I heard a month or so ago that Lionsgate planned to right the wrongs of the book. If the ending to the movie is any indicator, they failed big time. It is such a throwaway ending, such a plain and pedestrian ending that it killed the entire experience for me. While I wasn't crazy about the book's ending, its ambiguous end was rather ambitious. The ending to the movie only showed me what a waste of time the movie actually was.
I still hope for the day that we get a Stephen King horror adaptation that actually works, sadly it isn't "Cell." Yes, a few things about it work, but this could have been so much more that the thought of missed opportunity infuriates me. The filmmakers never understood the fun or the metaphor of what they were making, they just went through the motions for no apparent reason. They did absolutely nothing with this material except show me that this is just another horror movie, ripe with a lazy, horrid ending. I didn't know what to expect with adaptation, but I certainly expected this.
Sorry, Mr. King. But "It" and "The Dark Tower" are just around the corner. Personally though, I ain't holding my breath.
FINAL GRADE: D+