Problem with these gadget-themed films, says Judge David Johnson, is how soon the gimmicks are outpaced by technology. Remember The Wizard? Actually, forget that example. That movie was awesome!
Life or death depends on the next message.
At first glance, this film may seem to be an offshoot of Cellular, you know, another doohickey-oriented thriller. But, no, Beeper was released prior. Still, that doesn't mean I have to give up hope for Blackberry or Gizmondo.
Facts of the Case
Brilliant doctor Richard Avery (Ed Quinn) is on his way to India for a medical conference, and he's looking forward to spending some time with this son Sam. The doc is a widower, and Sam usually hangs out all day with their benevolent nanny, so both father and son are looking forward to quality time.
But the bonding experience quickly turns into a nightmare, when, in the middle of Avery's slideshow presentation, his son disappears. He panics and searches everywhere, but to no avail—the little guy is gone. Soon after, a ransom note arrives, and Avery, along with Indian police official Kumar (Gulshan Grover) and American liaison Julia (Joey Lauren Adams, Chasing Amy), is faced with the sinister demands of a mysterious kidnapper.
Avery is given a beeper and instructed to follow the instructions that come through, or risk death for his son. With no confidence in the authorities, Avery banishes the cops and follows the instructions on his own. So when the beeper beeps, Avery is given a fetch quest that will take him through the bustling downtown of a foreign country, where he can't trust anyone.
The game eventually leads him to a duffel bag full of cocaine—half a million's worth—and that plunges him into a new world, that of Zolo (Harvey Keitel, U-571), one of India's most feared drug kingpins.
Now, Avery must tempt fate by enlisting the help of Zolo, using the drugs as mortgage, and tracking down his son—before time runs out.
I was pleasantly surprised with Beeper. While far from perfect, it is a serviceable little thriller, boasting some lush visuals, a tightly-paced storyline, and some novel twists. It does have its share of downers too: mailed-in performances and gaping logic holes. But for a Friday night flick to keep you guessing and at least moderately engaged, Beeper should serve you OK.
The film sets up the premise of this guy held hostage by his beeper, jumping through hoops whenever the kidnappers page him. But, wisely, new twists are incorporated to keep the idea fresh. At first Avery does follow the beeper protocol well, but when he loses it (or someone steals it), the narrative takes a different tack, forcing our hero to jump through hoops to track down the beeper so he can jump through hoops. Plus, I really liked the setting of the film, with India as the backdrop. It added to the tension (a man in strange surroundings) and provided for some nifty backgrounds.
That's where Keitel enters the picture, as the dope fiend with the only connection to the lost beeper. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem terribly enthused to be in this movie, and phones in his gangster performance. He's supposed to be this deadly, menacing guy, and his dialogue reflects that, but I never once felt Avery was in any serious danger. His "You got balls kid…that's why you're still alive" line, as clichéd as it is, didn't even approach menacing. Quinn submits a reserved performance, rarely getting as worked up as I'd expect a dad to be in his situation. Then again, maybe I was just comparing him to Mel Gibson's basket case of a father from Ransom. (This is neither here nor there, but Ed Quinn looks like he could be Bob Saget's cooler, hipper twin brother.)
And while I got into the plot, it was difficult to ignore some of the massive breakdowns in logic, which unfurl even more once the credits roll and you start to think about it. Like, what kind of lame-ass kidnapper will snatch a kid up right in front of the dad while he's giving a lecture? Yes it made a nifty scene, having the dad's POV shot move in and out of the glare of the projector, but that strategy made zero sense. Of course, it's not as if the seminar attendees were any help. Not a single person had any recollection at all about the kid! Note to self: biomedical professionals from India don't give two craps about the well being of small children. Then there's the climax, as poorly thought-out an endgame as I've seen from a villain. No spoilers, but you'll wonder how this rapscallion managed to get out of bed without screwing it up when you see this brilliant escape plan.
That's Beeper, a better-than-mediocre direct-to-DVD thriller, plagued by a few shortcomings, but certainly not enough to sour a satisfying experience.
The movie looks great, transferred in 1.78:1 anamorphic, and pushing some vibrant color levels. The 2.0 stereo mix is loud, with the score often overwhelming the dialogue. No extras.
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