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In sloppy ‘Cell,’ John Cusack sprints to stop cell-phone zombies

CELL

Our cell phones are turning us into zombies.

The prolific and always movie- and/or TV-adaptable Stephen King saw that coming a decade ago when he published a novel titled “Cell,” which now has been turned into a movie starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, who previously appeared in the King adaptation “1408,” and you should rent that in lieu of purchasing this one on demand.

Cusack stars as a King doppelganger of sorts — a New England-based graphic novelist named Clay Riddell who has just scored a big contract. At Boston’s Logan Airport, Clay calls his estranged wife (Clark Sarullo) to share the great news, and then he has a touching Facetime moment with his son Johnny (Ethan Andrew Casto) before his battery dies.

Turns out that’s the luckiest power outage in Clay’s life.

As Clay searches in vain for an available power outlet, a mysterious electromagnetic signal beams through the cell phones of everyone in the airport (and beyond) — instantly turning all those texting/phoning humans into frothing-at-the-mouth zombies who will feast on the relatively small percentage of people who weren’t connected when the apocalyptic moment occurred.

Let the gross-out violence and the chill-inducing creepiness begin.

Clay teams up with MBTA subway engineer Tom McCourt (Jackson) and his neighbor Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman), as they try to puzzle out what the heck is happening as they shoot, bludgeon and otherwise kill off the possessed zombie population, aka “phoners.”

There’s a hive mentality thing happening. The zombies flock together and mindlessly and slavishly follow a shadowy figure that appears in dreams/nightmares a la Freddie Krueger, and may or may not be a creation of Clay’s imagination. Ooh, social commentary! I’m just not entirely sure what point is being made, but there’s definitely some point-making going on here, people.

“The Cell” is not a polished work of filmmaking. Some of the nighttime scenes are so poorly lit it’s difficult to tell what’s happening. The editing is ragged and adds to the confusion. More than a few of the supporting performances are embarrassingly amateurish.

On the plus side, we get Stacy Keach as some sort of preacher of the apocalypse, and a fantastically gruesome scene in which Cusack and Jackson torch an entire stadium filled with sleeping zombies, and a handful of genuinely frightening moments, and an ending that does not compromise.

Also, even when John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are slumming it, they’re good fun. Not enough to save the movie, but enough to keep you interested when you click across this thing sometime in your future.

★★

Lionsgate and Saban Films present a film directed by Tod Williams and written by Stephen King and Adam Alleca, based on the book by King. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated R (for disturbing violent content, terror, brief sexuality and language). Available on demand and opens Friday at AMC Woodridge 18.