×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘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.

Film Review: 'The Call'

More Film

  • Lizzo Coachella Valley Music and Arts

    Lizzo Joins Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez in Stripper Film 'Hustlers'

    After the release of her third album and a pair of high-profile Coachella performances, Lizzo announced today that she will be joining Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez in the stripper-themed film “Hustlers.” Based on a true story, the film focuses on strippers who band together to turn the tables on their wealthy Wall Street male [...]

  • Ralph Fiennes attends a special screening

    Ralph Fiennes on Directing Rudolf Nureyev Biopic: 'It's Been a Very, Very Long Road'

    Ralph Fiennes celebrated his latest directorial outing, “The White Crow,” on Monday night in New York City. The Sony Pictures Classics film tells the story of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. “It’s been a very, very long road. We were mad. We were mad to take on this subject of Rudolf Nureyev. Mad. Completely mad,” Fiennes [...]

  • Marc Malkin The Big Ticket Podcast

    Variety, iHeartMedia Launch New Film Podcast 'The Big Ticket' With Marc Malkin

    Variety and iHeartMedia have announced the premiere of “The Big Ticket,” a new weekly film-focused podcast hosted by Marc Malkin, the magazine’s senior film awards and events & lifestyle editor. The podcast will feature sit-down interviews with Hollywood’s hottest stars and filmmakers talking movies, the business and more. New episodes will be released every Thursday [...]

  • 2019 Box Office Placeholder

    Can 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion King' and Other Summer Movies Rescue the Box Office?

    In the summer, as temperatures rise and schools go on break, Hollywood likes to stick to a well-worn formula: Pack the multiplexes with franchises, spinoffs, reboots and remakes. This coming season will be no different — with hopes that the pay off at the box office will help reverse the current turndown in ticket sales. [...]

  • Cameron Crowe, David Crosby in Park

    Cameron Crowe on Putting 'the Most Colorful Life Ever,' David Crosby's, on Screen

    Cameron Crowe jokes that David Crosby is following his career path. The star’s frankness and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor has resulted in Rolling Stone magazine’s invitation to set up the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s next act as a rock Dear Abby of sorts with his new column: “Ask Croz.” “Isn’t that great?” says Crowe, the Oscar-winning [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Full Movie Hits Piracy Networks (Report)

    Disney/Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” poised to be the hugest movie opening in history, has hit piracy networks — two days before its U.S. premiere — with a copy evidently recorded in a Chinese movie theater now circulating online, according to a published report. Users in China began sharing a 1.2-gigabyte file of “Avengers: Endgame” on peer-to-peer [...]

  • Easy Lessons Dorottya Zurbo Documentary

    European Film Promotion Hits Hot Docs Festival With Changing Face of Europe Pic Selection

    For the second edition of the Changing Face of Europe, a collaboration between the Hot Docs film festival (April 25-May 5) and European Film Promotion (EFP), 10 European documentaries will offer Toronto audiences a provocative and kaleidoscopic portrait of the cultural forces shaping the continent today. The program is a study in both intimate, personal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content