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Fox Officials Rethink Release of Sniper Film

The Nation | IN A SNIPER'S GRIP

October 12, 2002|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the movie "Phone Booth," actor Colin Farrell plays a man who decides to answer a ringing public telephone in New York, only to discover that the anonymous caller is a crazed sniper with a rifle telling him he'll be shot dead if he hangs up.

On Friday, as police on the East Coast conducted a massive manhunt, executives at 20th Century Fox were pondering whether to postpone the film's Nov. 15 release because of its similarity to news events.

"We are evaluating the situation," said Flo Grace, a spokeswoman for Fox.

But for Larry Cohen, the veteran screenwriter responsible for "Phone Booth," the drama being played out near the nation's capital has cast a pall over the film.

"Even before today, I was concerned that a sniper was killing innocent people and that we had a movie about a sniper who traps a man in a telephone booth," Cohen said Friday. "It went over fabulously when we showed it [recently at the Toronto Film Festival]. It was a real ride.

"I don't know if it would be considered a ride now. It would be an excursion into dark reality."

Cohen said he would have no objection if Fox decides to delay the release.

"I would certainly not call them up and tell them not to do it," he said.

Cohen said he visited a theater 10 days ago and watched the audience react to the film's preview as though they were seeing an entertaining thriller like "Speed" or "Die Hard."

But when he visited another theater after the East Coast attacks began, "the reaction had changed completely because of what was happening in the news. They were gasping at the picture in its current incarnation."

Cohen said he sees parallels between the fictional sniper in the movie and the real-life serial killer stalking innocent victims. "Both guys are fixated with a God complex," he said.

"They both think they can control people's lives and strike them down at will because they feel they are omnipotent."

He said he was grateful that the film didn't come out before the killing began.

"I realize movies can have an influence over people, particularly people who are mentally deranged."

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