Halle Berry is hanging on the telephone in Brad Anderson’s misfiring thriller.
The Call displays a tremendous amount of promise during its opening hour, with several moments of white-knuckle tension compensating for a few of the script’s shortcomings. Alas, into its final act, the film hopelessly falls to pieces, climaxing in an exhaustively stupid fashion guaranteed to have cinema audiences ridiculing it on their way out. With plot holes galore, some hammy acting, and a very moronic, easily telegraphed screenplay, The Call shifts from watchable diversion to outright insult, which obliterates its replay value. This is one of the most retarded motion pictures I have ever seen, and I’ve also seen many of Uwe Boll’s movies.
In Los Angeles, Jordan (Halle Berry) is a seasoned 911 operator, but she’s confronted with a disturbing call one night concerning a home invasion. She screws up, leading to the death of a girl. Six months later, Jordan has turned to teaching the new recruits in order to stay out of the line of fire. However, Jordan is thrust back into duty when teen Casey (Abigail Breslin) is abducted from a shopping mall by prowler Michael (Michael Eklund). Stuffed in the trunk of a car, Casey calls 911, but the cell phone she’s using is hard to trace. As the LAPD scrambles to find her location, Jordan keeps the frightened teen on the line, reassuring her that she will be saved and instructing her how to use surrounding items to her advantage.
With films like Session 9, The Machinist and Vanishing on 7th Street to his credit, Brad Anderson has made a name for himself in smart, challenging movies, but The Call finds Anderson as a gun-for-hire. The script is credited to Richard D’Ovidio (Exit Wounds, Thirteen Ghosts), his wife Nicole (a screenplay first-timer), and Jon Bokenkamp (Taking Lives, Perfect Stranger). The movie was initially set to be directed by Joel Schumacher, as well, and it was co-financed by WWE (yes, World Wrestling Entertainment). That’s the type of flick we’re dealing with. Characters disappear (Casey’s friend is quickly forgotten about), while other characters are ignored completely (where are Casey’s parents amid the crisis? Wouldn’t they come to the call centre?), and the film plays out like more of a thrill-ride than a mature suspense movie.
Thankfully, Anderson’s handling of the material is competent and at its best during a brisk opening segment that introduces us to The Hive, a call centre for 911 operators. It’s pure chaos, and we get to viscerally experience the commotion, watching Jordan as she deals with the fateful call. And once Casey is kidnapped, there are a few moments that strike an unnerving chord; it’s harrowing to watch a hysterical Casey trapped in a car trunk, and we get the sense of how frightening such an experience would be. The material is admittedly obvious, but Anderson plays the expected notes well, keeping Casey’s ordeal involving and terrifying. But the cracks in the script keep appearing, revealing The Call as an idiotic thriller which deserves to have gone straight-to-video.
Plot points throughout are telegraphed well in advance; Jordan instructs the trainees to remain detached and never to make promises, but she expectedly breaks both of those rules before the story’s end. Likewise, Jordan’s boss chastises her for misconduct early into the film, but later applauds her for practically taunting Casey’s kidnapper. The only thing that actually surprised me is the climax, because I would never have guessed that any major motion picture release would traverse such moronic territory. Jordan decides to take matters into her own hands for the ending despite being a “by the book” type of person. If Jordan were an FBI agent (a la Silence of the Lambs), this wouldn’t be too problematic. But she’s a 911 operator, and she suddenly changes into a “girl power” figure, showing herself to have more smarts and investigative might than the entire LAPD. However, this is minor compared to the dreadful final two minutes of the movie, which single-handedly drop the film’s value by several notches.
The Call is a powerfully dumb movie, even by Hollywood standards. The cops are painfully inept and never achieve anything worthwhile, and the characters are a roster of dull clichés. Michael’s inability to discover Casey’s cell phone will make you bang your head against a wall, and he keeps having to kill people in public in broad daylight, but no bystanders appear to witness the crime or do anything. The timeline is skewed as well; Casey is abducted in the morning, but less than two hours later (as gauged by the phone’s call timer) it’s suddenly late afternoon and the sun is going down. The battery life of Casey’s phone is unrealistic as well; it still runs for a solid half-hour on its final flashing bar of life. Furthermore, when the situation with Casey breaks out, nothing else happens in The Hive as it comes to the point of pure silence, with other operators watching Jordan as opposed to fielding calls, and with no operators visible in the background stations doing their jobs. Apparently everyone in the city conveniently decided to stop committing crimes for a few hours. Added to this is the ludicrous Hollywood-ised technology used by Jordan, who can apparently turn up the background noise of a recording. Huh?
Certainly, The Call is watchable for the most part due to its visceral nature and the strength of its first hour, but you walk away disappointed that the filmmakers tried to keep things uncomplicated and generic for the sake of box office dollars. Honestly, the movie should not have detoured into depravity and formula, since it works so well as a 911 nail-biter. With artistic integrity relinquished, The Call is a bust; it’s a film begging for a more talented team of writers.