Film Review: ‘The Call’

the call

Halle Berry stars in this awfully familiar high-concept thriller

Representing a slightly skewed take on 2004’s “Cellular” crossed with a lobotomized “Silence of the Lambs,” Brad Anderson’s high-concept thriller “The Call” would be an unremarkable bit of women-in-peril dreck were it not for two distinguishing factors — the sexualized sadism inflicted upon the half-dressed 16-year-old Abigail Breslin, and the equally sadistic Sideshow Bob coiffure affixed to the otherwise lovely Halle Berry. These indignities aside, there’s little to differentiate this high-pitched screamer from a particularly feverish “Law and Order” rerun, and it might be tough for such a film to dial in sizable auds to theaters. 

One of the more high-profile films to bear the WWE Studios label in recent years, “The Call” features no actual grappling, yet it shows the fingerprints of its benefactor in the presence of wrestling star David Otunga, as well as a serial-killer villain (Michael Eklund) who seems less psychopath than juice-head. Perhaps it’s unfair to blame the producers for the film’s overwrought tempo, but whatever the cause, the pic’s dunderheaded emotional timbre is miles removed from the relative class of director Anderson’s previous efforts “The Machinist” and “Transsiberian,” confusing macho aggression for menace, and tightly framed screaming for suspense.

Berry stars as Jordan, a hotshot 911 operator who rules over the bustling call center known as “the Hive” — we know she’s a star when co-workers casually ask her for the institutional code for a multiple stabbing. Featuring some nice aerial photography of Downtown Los Angeles, the pic expends 10 minutes laying character foundations involving Jordan’s unseen cop father, her handsome LAPD-officer boyfriend (Morris Chestnut), and her charged relationship with an unsympathetic supervisor, then disregards these details entirely once the action gets rolling.

Receiving a 911 call from a teenage girl in the midst of a home invasion, Jordan concocts an elaborate strategy to help her evade the predator, but gives the girl away by hitting the redial button when the call is cut off. (Berry’s character will similarly vacillate between Jason Bourne-like ingenuity and howling stupidity throughout the remainder of the film.)

The girl is abducted and murdered by the unseen, catchphrase-spouting killer, and the guilt-ridden Jordan takes a leave of absence.

Try as she might, Jordan can’t avoid the call to heroism, which arrives soon, via another emergency call. Teenage Casey (Breslin), has been drugged and kidnapped from a mall parking lot, and wakes up in the trunk of a car speeding down the freeway. Through some needlessly convoluted plot machinations, she has a friend’s untraceable pay-as-you-go cell phone in her pocket, and Jordan must don the headset once again to talk her out of harm’s way.

It’s here that the film generates its only real sparks of invention, as the desk-bound Jordan is forced to coach the hysterical teen though a series of ruses to try to tip off passers-by. Unspooling more or less in real-time, the pursuit sequences manage to evoke the primary appeal of such high-concept material, for which one happily suspends disbelief just to see how long the filmmakers can stick to the premise. But no sooner can you say “this time … it’s personal” than the film disengages completely, running Jordan through some paint-by-numbers Nancy Drew routines, and veering toward the ickily exploitative as it invents reasons to remove Breslin’s shirt and tie her up.

Berry is enough of a pro to muddle through yet another underwhelming star vehicle with her dignity intact, and Breslin acquits herself well enough for a problematic role in which she’s forced to cry and scream nearly continuously. Eklund is a hulking, malevolent presence, though his scrambled-brow attempt at a psychopathic glare provoked gales of laughter at the screening attended.

Whether it’s the odd directorial tic of freeze-framing during moments of violence — perhaps intended to suggest a sort of rage-induced blackout, but which feels like a projector glitch — or the offputting cadence shifts in editing, the film hits a number of unusual technical notes, yet the overall quality is solid. Practical effects and freeway footage are well handled, as are the scenes contained entirely within the trunk of a car.

The Call

Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, March 5, 2013. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

A Sony Pictures release of a TriStar Pictures, Stage 6 Films presentation in association with Troika Pictures, WWE Studios, Amasia Entertainment of a Troika and WWE production in association with Apotheosis Media Group. Produced by Jeff Graup, Michael J. Luisi, Michael A. Helfant, Robert L. Stein, Bradley Gallo. Executive producers, William C. Gallo, Philip M. Cohen, Dale Rosenbloom, Guy J. Louthan.

Directed by Brad Anderson. Screenplay, Richard D’Ovidio, from a story by D’Ovidio, Nicole D’Ovidio, Jon Bokenkamp. Camera (color), Thomas Yatsko; editor, Avi Youbian; music, John Debney; music supervisor, David A. Helfant; production designer, Franco G. Carbone; art director, Charlie Campbell; set decorator, Robert Gould; costume designer, Magali Guidasci; sound (SounDelux/Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Edward Tise; sound designer/supervisor, Lon Bender; re-recording mixers, Marc Fishman, Chris Minkler; special effects coordinator, Steve Shines; visual effects, Arsenal FX; visual effects supervisors, Lauren Mayer-Beug, Nathan Boldman; stunt coordinators, Mark Chadwick, Dennis McCarthy, Kanin Howell; assistant director, Gary Rake; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Vanessa Spencer.

With: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, David Otunga, Michael Imperioli, Justina Machado, Jose Zuniga, Roma Maffia, Evie Louise Thompson, Denise Dowse, Ella Rae Peck.

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  1. jim gryner says:

    It curled my hair, but not quiet as much as Halle Berry’s.

  2. kathy says:

    I thought the ending was unreal and not believable. No person could survive the attack and live and once again you see the person still living. The ending should have involved police surrounding the place, and the girls parents reuniting with her.

  3. Joseph L Cooke says:

    Good movie and it had no competition. Excellent craftsmanship throughout.

  4. daniel says:

    This movie will be another failure… Won’t gross over 20 million

  5. kristen says:

    i saw a screening last week at USC and the movie rocked. i am always confused when reviewers watch the same film and they hate genre movies. i figure they either tried to make it in hollywood and failed or they are just angry at the world…all of my friends thought it was intense and a great ride sort of like silence of the lambs.

    • eastlake256 says:

      You are 100% right. You can’t trust most of these reviewers. They tend to be doing jobs that they really don’t want to do. Writers who haven’t sealed that book deal yet, directors that are out of work, actors that never made it very far. Who the hell remembers what was going on in 2004 let alone some movie called “cellular” It’s like they just want to hear themselves talking?

      Anyhow… this movie was AWESOME I honestly thought it was going to be terrible. but it was scary as hell.. Good job to the folks involved.

      • Shadana says:

        I agree, I was skeptical when I herd about it but it ended up being a GREAT movie. It had everything. Drama, that “what’s gonna happen next” feeling and so much more. I didn’t want it to end. Now the ending is still a bit questioning but at the same time gives your mind that curiosity far as what happened to the guy and the victims.. But all in all I liked the movie and it just goes to show that we as people REALLY do take life for granted and we shouldn’t because there are even more people out there like that little girl who’s situations are much worse than our own petty issues.

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