Judge Michael Nazarewycz can't come to the phone right now.
There are 188 million 911 calls a year. This one made it personal.
I remember seeing the trailer for The Call in the theater. It looked
rather contrived, but just as filmmaking is an art, so too is trailer cutting.
After hearing a little positive buzz upon its release, I thought perhaps the
film was ill-served by its own promotion. Um…nope.
Facts of the Case
Jordan Turner (Halle Berry, Catwoman) is a Los Angeles 911 operator who takes the wrong call at the wrong time—so wrong, in fact, that she is never the same. Six months later, now a 911 trainer, Jordan finds herself having to take over a call being botched by a rookie. That caller is Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin, Zombieland), a teenager who has been kidnapped and calling from the trunk of her captor's speeding car. It's up to Jordan to keep Casey alive until help can arrive.
I get it. I do. I get the appeal of the idea of this film. Law official seeks redemption by overcoming a repeat situation. Cute girl in danger. Creepy killer. Close quarters. Highway peril. Race against time. Yet it pretty much fails on every level.
Halle Berry, despite her beauty and that shiny Oscar on her shelf for Monster's Ball, simply isn't up to the task. The essence of the character dictates that a great deal of the acting be intimate, with very little reliance on physical presence and everything depending on delivery of dialogue and nuanced facial expressions. Berry delivers neither. Sure, she looks worried, nervous, and stressed, but those emotions are communicated in an all too pedestrian manner. She isn't horrible, but she simply doesn't have the fine acting touch to pull off what's required for this role.
Speaking of Oscars and actresses, one-time nominee Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) offers even less. As the victim of the kidnapping, Breslin's responsibility is to convey fear and panic. Instead, she gives everything she has as incessant screaming and hyperventilating.
The real standout here is Michael Eklund (Assault on Wall Street) who plays the film's antagonist, Michael Foster. We eventually learn just how disturbed this character is, but in the run-up Eklund plays the villain to pitch-perfection. He's creepy but never a ham, and memorable despite the film's flaws.
The screenplay, courtesy of Richard D'Ovidio (Exit Wounds), is predictable and puzzling. A teenage girl has been kidnapped. Where are her parents? Sure, the story is more about Berry's character than Breslin's, but don't make Breslin a 17-year-old MacGuffin. Get rid of the absolutely useless and underdeveloped aspects of the narrative that suggest a romance between Jordan and an LA cop (Morris Chestnut, Boyz N The Hood), and add a little family drama, please.
Brad Anderson's (The Machinist) direction is a mixed bag. I like how he presents certain action scenes in something of a before-and-after context. For example, the killer sets someone on fire. After dousing the victim in gasoline, he lights a Zippo lighter, looks at the flame, then throws the lighter at the victim. Before the lighter can reach the victim, the picture freezes for two or three seconds. The next shot is the man on fire. It's all very highlight reel, but effective in its context. Sadly, that's as visionary as Anderson gets. The rest of the film spends far too much time on close-ups. I understand that a girl trapped in a car trunk requires tight framework, but the scope lens Anderson uses over and over and over again had me thinking of Waldo in Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" video.
As The Call progresses, it devolves into made-for-TV fare (network, not HBO), with one of the more ridiculous endings I've ever seen on film.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high def widescreen, I first thought Sony's transfer was washed out. Turns out it wasn't the digital presentation, but Tom Yatsko's lighting and cinematography. When you watch the crisp images of the HD extras, you realize Anderson seemed to be going for something hazy. While some scenes look good, Anderson's visualization choices really mute the Blu-ray imagery. On the other hand, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is sharp, which is particularly important when listening to incoming 911 calls and cell phone conversations.
Most of the bonus features are standard behind-the-scenes EPK fare, the cast and crew selling the film with great enthusiasm—Commentary from Brad Anderson, Richard D'Ovidio, Abigail Breslin, Halle Berry, and producers Michael Helfant, Robert Stein, and Bradley Gallo; five minutes of deleted and extended scenes; and four featurettes looking at the 911 call center, the stunts, and tours of two set pieces. The items of particular note here are an alternate ending and Michael Eklund's audition video. The former is mercifully brief, and actually makes you appreciate the ending they chose, but the latter is a fascinating look at several videos Eklund made representing his vision of scenes from the script. They aren't any better than the scenes in the film, but they provide interesting insight into what an actor will do to get a part. Sony also tacks on the obligatory DVD, Digital, and UltraViolet copies of the film.
With decades' worth of thrillers for comparison, anything in that genre must arrive with something fresh and impressive. The Call's premise makes the connection, but its execution gets a busy signal. This is a rainy-day rental at best.
Sorry, wrong number. Guilty.
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