Sleazy young New York publicist Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) spends his days trading gossip to the New York Post's Page 6 for goodies like Britney Spears tickets, which he then gives to cops for tipping him off. He lies his way through life, working two cell phones to play one contact off against another.
Married to a pretty blonde (Radha Mitchell) but trying to get aspiring actress Pamela McFadden (Katie Holmes) into bed, he regularly phones Pamela from what's described as New York's last surviving phone booth, at 53rd and Eighth. But as he's about to make today's call the pay phone rings and he picks it up. Who's on the other end? It's a real sicko (the voice of Kiefer Sutherland), who likes to kill people who act immorally. He pins Stu in the booth and won't let him hang up, demonstrating his power by killing a local pimp who wants Stu out of the booth so his girls can make dates.
Naturally this brings the cops, with Forest Whitaker in the lead, who think Stu shot the man and has a gun; they can't understand why Stu won't come out of the booth. Before the film ends Stu will confess just about every sin he's committed since he went into the publicity business. Thank God he didn't go back as far as lying to his mother about flushing the asparagus down the toilet.
Director Joel Schumacher, who's made more bad films than just about any director working today (for instance, "Batman Forever," "Batman and Robin"), has a feel for sleaze, and he uses Farrell's innate look of openness and innocence to play against what we're supposed to loathe in Stu. Farrell is on screen alone for almost all of the film's 80 minutes (and short as that is it keeps teetering on the edge of boredom) as Schumacher and his writer Larry Cohen keep trying to ring new changes on the plot line and hold our attention. The Irish Farrell uses a believable New York accent and, playing just to a telephone, does remarkably well at keeping us involved.
And then Schumacher and Cohen make a terrible mistake. A film like "Phone Booth" requires that there be a catharsis at the end; that when the cops locate the sniper and Stu is whole again, the film must end. Instead, Cohen and Schumacher have added a trick ending that negates everything we've seen and most of what we've felt for Stu's transit of hell. Are they planning a sequel? Let us hope not.