Seeing the subtitle “based on a Stephen King story” in any credits is often a signal of good things to come – Stand By Me, Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, Misery, Carrie etc.
Alas it is not so for Cell, which comes from King’s 2006 story and, despite also headlining John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson as stars, cannot shake off the rotting stench of a cliched zombie movie.
Aside from those opening credits, the opening sequence is promising enough. A crowded airport scene shows everyone chatting on their mobile phones (cell phones in American, hence the title). John Cusack, playing some kind of a graphic author, is Face Timing his son when he runs out of juice. While he looks for a plug socket, the jabbering masses start foaming at the mouth, shaking, screaming and viciously attacking each other.
It’s zombie carnage and Cusack runs out of the airport to the underground where a few unaffected people are on a train (no signal down there, you see). One of these is Samuel L Jackson and he and Cusack team up to walk along the tracks to safety.
And that’s about it. They hole up in various places, drink whiskey and team up with various people along the way as Cusack tries to make it across the apocalyptic, zombie-fied landscape without being eaten.
There’s nothing unusual or original here, apart from one good scene in which Sam and John napalm a football field of sleeping zombies. I’ve no idea what the zombie metaphor is any more – it can’t still be consumerist greed, and the fact that we’re all on cell phones walking around catatonic all the time is hardly a fresh observation – and certainly couldn’t figure out the rules here. The zombies want what? The eat flesh? They need blood? They behave like birds, but they sleep at night, or what?
Come on – in the end the zombies just look like a bunch of wannabe extras doing a mass improv class, coughing and hacking and shaking, like they’re trying to impress Samuel L Jackson. By the look on his face, it doesnt seem to have worked.