'Phone Booth' movie may ring too close to reality

— Real-life sniper attacks have prompted 20th Century Fox to consider postponing release of the thriller "Phone Booth," about a man who answers a public telephone and finds himself pinned down by a faraway shooter.

The film, starring Colin Farrell as the trapped victim and Kiefer Sutherland as the shooter, is set to debut nationwide Nov. 15.

The plot of the film bears some similarities to the sniper attacks on the East Coast that have killed eight people and wounded two in the Washington area.

In the real cases, no one is known to have seen the triggerman carry out any of the attacks. In the film, the shooter singles out individuals he believes deserve punishment.

Fox spokeswoman Flo Grace said studio executives were examining "Phone Booth" to determine whether it would be appropriate to release it. She could not say when the decision would be made.

"Everyone wants to know: Are we moving the film? Are we changing the marketing plan? ... All I can say is we're evaluating the situation," she said.

Screenwriter Larry Cohen, who wrote "Phone Booth" three years ago, said he would not mind if the studio delayed release of the film.

"I'd hate to inflict pain on any of the family and friends of the victims and bring the pain back to them," he said. "A movie is meaningless compared to the reality of what's going on."

When the shootings began Oct. 2, Cohen � best known for the writing and directing monster features like "The Stuff" and "Return to Salem's Lot" � said he knew the release of "Phone Booth" would be in jeopardy.

"I'm very happy the picture didn't come out beforehand," he said. "It would have been horrible to think, 'Oh my God, did I put the idea in someone's head?'"

Cohen's 1976 film "God Told Me To" had a similar sniper theme � it was about a series of random shooting murders by a madman who thinks God talks to him.

At the site of a shooting last week that critically wounded a 13-year-old boy outside his school in Bowie, Md., police found a tarot death card with the taunting words, "Dear policeman, I am God" near a bullet shell.

"Maybe it's better to stick with monster babies and dragons flying down from the Chrysler Building, because you know that some diseased mind can't make those things really happen," Cohen said, referring to his films "It's Alive!" and "Q."

Sometimes movies that explore current events coincide with real-life headlines more closely than filmmakers expect.

Perhaps the most uncanny timing in film history came in 1979 when the nuclear-meltdown thriller "The China Syndrome" opened in theaters 12 days before the nation's worst commercial nuclear accident, at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pa.


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