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Film review: Cell - John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson can’t save this zombie tale

After dazzling opening scene, in which a phone signal turns people into zombies, adaptation of 2006 Stephen King novel falls flatter than a dead battery. It’s no match for Train to Busan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 11:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 11:14am

2/5 stars

The zombie craze continues unabated with Cell, Tod Williams’ functional adaptation of Stephen King’s 2006 novel. The idea is neat enough: a mysterious high-pitched signal sent one day causes everyone speaking on a cellphone to suddenly become raging carnivores. The satire may not be subtle, riffing on the way we’ve become zombified by technology, but it works well enough.

John Cusack plays everyman graphic novelist Clay Riddell, who arrives at a Boston airport to witness the signal being broadcast and humanity imploding faster than you can say “walking dead”. It’s a brilliant opening scene, dizzying in its speed and slaughter, as passers-by go for the jugular. Unfortunately, Cell never really has a follow-up.

Train to Busan becomes top-grossing Asian film in Hong Kong history, passing Cold War 2

After an underground escape, Clay hooks up with train driver Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) and his own upstairs neighbour Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman) in a bid for survival, safety and sanity. Clay just wants to reunite with his family, although it’s a pat emotional arc straight out the Hollywood playbook that isn’t enough to keep you engaged.

Co-scripted by King, the film reunites Cusack and Jackson after the 2007 hotel-set King adaptation 1408, and there is a level of familiarity between the major players that at least makes Cell palatable. Unlike recent zombie efforts such as British film The Girl with All the Gifts and South Korean masterpiece Train to Busan, Williams’ work offers little in the way of originality. In such a crowded marketplace, Cell falls flatter than a dead battery.

Cell opens on October 13

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