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[Review] Stephen King’s ‘Cell’ Is Another Forgettable Adaptation

10 years ago, Stephen King wrote Cell – a novel about mass consumption and portable “horde” culture in the digital age. It’s not one of his better works, but is considered pretty decent by fans. It’s just “okay” in my book. The novel definitely has its moments. And those moments are captured surprisingly well by director Tod Williams in the adaptation of the same name. Williams – who had the awful crutch to bear helming Paranormal Activity 2 – does an excellent job capturing King’s spirit – a blend of cynicism and hopefulness amidst horror. The problem is, it’s just not that interesting a King story to begin with.

Cell stars the always-reliable Samuel L. Jackson and recent DTV champion John Cusack. The latter has been in a ridiculous amount of pay-the-bills movies lately – Frozen Ground, Grand Piano, The Prince – while also delivering an Oscar-worthy performance in Love & Mercy. Seriously. Cusack is devastating in that one.

Here, Cusack stars as Clay Riddell, a graphic novelist trying to become the father he never was, connecting with his estranged wife. It’s a beautiful moment that kicks off Cell. As he flies into Boston’s Logan Airport, a cell signal goes out that turns everyone into a raging, murdering asshole. Luckily, Clay’s phone dies right before that electromagnetic pulse apocalypse. Timing is everything, pal.

He ventures out with gay MBTA subway driver Tom McCourt (Jackson) – one resourceful bastard – and Alice Maxwell (Isabelle Fuhrman). Also in the mix is Stacey Keach, a genuine god of genre films and The Simpsons (look him up). So across the board, the cast delivers. Cusack and Jackson are terrific. The problem is, the story itself is wicked flimsy.

Cell follows Clay, Tom, and Alice as they wander the outskirts of Boston – fighting against the signal people (essentially zombies with a hive-mind) and average Boston douchebags. It starts off really promising, with an awkwardly shot action sequence in Logan. Williams does not know how to film action. It’s an ugly sequence that utilizes shaky cam in the place of honest action.

Given the absurdity of the premise, you’d think Cell would be an entertaining ride. It’s not. It’s gratuitously grim and gloomy, with no real message to drive this misery home. Throughout the film, there are references to the unfortunately named “King of the Internet” – known as “The Raggedy Man in King’s book. He’s almost like a Freddie Krueger character who terrorizes people in their dreams. At one point, Clay and Tom meet the most Boston guy ever in the woods, who hasn’t slept a week because of the “Internet King.”

So where do all these references to “Internet King” and Clay’s sullen art lead? Nowhere. Cell closes out on a finale that will justifiably frustrate most. The story packs absolutely no punch and the solid stable of actors look bored for most of he film.

Why is it so hard to adapt a King novel? His monsters live in the mind, at the heart of America. Putting literal monsters on screen always dulls the impact.

Cell is available to rent now On Demand.



  • Taylor

    Can you not put your thoughts in the headline? I was hoping to go into this movie blind but now, even without reading your review, I already know what you thought.

    • Patrick Cooper

      Sorry, man.

    • Creepshow

      Just hang in there pal, you’ll be ok.

    • lány

      Agreed, but in this case don’t waste your time with this movie.

  • Yan Mendes

    I watched this movie the weekend… and it’s SO horrible!! Such a waste of time!!

  • Yan Mendes

    I watched this movie this weekend… and it’s SO horrible!! Such a waste of time!!

  • Khy

    Sad to hear. Damn. They dragged their feet way too long with this and now it feels like too little too late. The latest this movie should’ve been done was 2009- now it’s just not relevant really. Most people text rather than talk these days anyway.

  • Richter Belmont

    I saw this Friday, and it left me hanging. Who was the ‘hooded raggedy man?’ I’ve not read the book but is he supposed to be Randall Flagg? Is he some sort of cipher for technology gone awry? I looked up the wiki for the Cell novel and it doesn’t say anything, either.

    Seriously, the character was so random, I thought he walked in from a completely different story. At least Isabelle Fuhrman was in the film. I’ve loved her work since The Orphan.

    • Jack Derwent

      He’s not Flagg or any specific individual. He’s basically a mouthpiece for the hive so to speak; if he were to die another would take his place.

      • Richter Belmont

        Like Locutus of Borg? That never made sense to me in STNG, and it doesn’t make sense for me in Cell. If they are a Hive mind why would there be a mouthpiece? Wouldn’t they be one collective mouthpiece? Raggedy guy doesn’t look like a Queen Bee, either. He seems like a completely unnecessary character.

        Overall, I’d say Cell is another poorly written King story about technology.

        • Jack Derwent

          Haven’t seen the movie but it’d probably make more sense if you read the book.

  • Grandpa Fred

    How does it start off ‘really promising’ if it’s an ‘awkwardly shot…ugly sequence’?

    • Weresmurf

      Zombie outbreak in the airport with people flipping out due to a signal on their mobiles. I get what he means, the opening shot is ok in theory but really badly done.

  • Jack Derwent

    I wonder how this would have been if Eli Roth had done it.

    • macguffin54

      Did you see Clown? Probably just as bad, if not worse.

      • vmackey

        Eli didn’t direct Clown, just produced it.

  • macguffin54

    Funny, the guy I just watched playing the son of John Rayburn as an 18/19 y/o on Bloodline looks about 12 here (not really, but really young), yet it came out two weeks later. He doesn’t even look like the same person.

    Oh, and it stinks.

    • zob rombie

      Bloodline first season is awesome. I still have to see the second.

    • J Jett

      macguffin, i think you’re referring to Owen Teague. he was actually the best actor (specifically in this movie) in CELL. he outshined both Cusack & Sam Jackson. IMO.

  • Weresmurf

    2/5 is too high. Tried to watch it and by god it was fucking abysmal. 0/5 would be my rating.

  • SD_Scott

    I really enjoyed the book and had high hopes for this… Unfortunately, it sucks. It’s so bad. I don’t know why there’s such difficulty adapting King books to the big screen but here’s hoping they get it right for Dark Tower.

  • J Jett

    i didn’t hate this movie but it’s not very good either. it had a lot potential but never really tried to utilize it. for an end of days/Invasion Of The Body Snatchers type of movie there was very little tension/suspense. the only character/actor that acted in a realistic (to the movie’s events) manner was Owen Teague who played Jordan (the young boy from the prep school). and don’t even get me started on the ending. completely confusing.

  • Giacomo Calzoni

    A very bad movie. It reminds me Pontypool, that was much better, an instant classic.

  • Prudence

    My favorite part of the movie was Cuzomibe. Reminds me of the customers i deal with

    • Ash Housewares

      He looks like a dashboard bobblehead

  • lány

    Disagree with Cusack being any good in this movie. I thought it was a terribly boring performance in a movie with a pointless plot and bad execution.

  • Daleth

    The movie is terrible, they basically threw all the parts that pushed the book into “decent” territory out and decided they needed to end it with a “cruel” twist ending instead of it’s original one.

  • TheonetrueLee

    Awful book begat awful series. How about we do Joyland instead.

  • Bender isgreat

    they always butcher the book, but someone needs to be exiled over this one.

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