I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Call

tn_thecallWhen I saw the trailer, I thought THE CALL looked hilariously awful. Halle Berry, 911 operator who gets a girl killed by redialing her and giving up her location to her attacker, has to redeem herself when another victim calls from the trunk of the killer’s car. In context, though, I gotta say it’s not bad. A watchable if undistinguished suspense thriller.

The structure has a Larry Cohen-esque simplicity to it, which I respect.

Part 1: failed call and introduction of the spectacular call center where our heroine will spend 2/3 of the movie.

Part 2 (the main part of the movie): Casey (Abigail Breslin) gets stalked and kidnapped, and talks to Jordan (Berry) from the trunk of the kidnapper’s car, while Jordan comes up with ways to zero in on the location of the vehicle and/or get her spotted by somebody else who will call 911. The police response happens to be led by her boyfriend (UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY and HALF PAST DEAD veteran Morris Chestnut) so there’s a far-fetched personal connection to Jordan as they follow the leads she gives them.

Part 3 (the most ludicrous part): Jordan finishes her part of the job and gets sent home, but needs closure so bad that she goes rogue and tries to investigate on her own. Unarmed. And in a classic make-the-audience-slap-their-foreheads-because-of-the-heroine’s-dumb-mistake move the 911 operator drops her phone into the underground hideout she finds. Whoops.

mp_thecallPart 2 hinges on the killer wanting the girl alive, and also having a long drive. But I like the problem-solving. They come up with some clever ways to find her, but as they start to involve more people the danger increases. Somebody might see the paint dripping out of the car and call the cops but then the killer might see them and go after them. Not good. He wants her alive for his sick rituals, but people who get in his way he’s not so precious about.

Part 1 is a little goofy. Jordan losing her confidence and becoming a trainer for new operators is a clever way to create an arc for the character and give us tons of exposition about how a 911 call center works. The problem is we get so much needless 911 information that it starts to seem like they did all this research and didn’t have the discipline to leave out the stuff that didn’t fit. They think they gotta use every part of the buffalo, but sometimes you want the buffalo taste to be more subtle than that.

One thing I thought was kinda funny about the call center, they have giant screens showing the news, giving her information about what’s going on. It’s awfully convenient for this case, but I feel like most of the time it would be pretty distracting. The operator should be listening to an old lady describe what’s wrong with her husband, but gets distracted by Anderson Cooper’s dry wit. How are they supposed to tell somebody how to do CPR when there’s a commercial for “Perfect Polly the motion activated parakeet” towering above them? (Seriously, I just turned on CNN to see what commercial to say would be playing, and this was on.)

Poor Breslin must’ve had a miserable time filming this. She gets to play Generic Blond Teen, maybe refreshing after LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, but she must spend 85% of her scenes crying and screaming. Sometimes she has a very realistic swollen eye, sometimes she’s in a bra with no shirt. Not much smiling for her in this. But since she goes through so much the not-exactly-by-the-book way Jordan handles the situation at the end is more satisfying.

The villain is Michael Eklund, who plays his psychopathy as a sickness. He looks sweaty and pained about the whole thing, like he knows it’s bad but can’t control it. Eklund is pretty good, and he might be a scary unknown face to most people, but I had a hard time seeing past him as the guy who played weaselly supporting characters in Vancouver-shot DTV movies such as THE MARINE 3, TACTICAL FORCE and HUNT TO KILL as well as a couple episodes of Seagal’s True Justice show. (Others might recognize him as a Uwe Bolle regular.) My fault, though. Good for him getting to star opposite Halle Berry.

WWEstudiosThat brings up an important issue though. Why did I bother to see this thing? This is not the type of material I would usually seek out. I’ll tell you why I did it: because it was released under the prestigious WWE Studios banner. But where the fuck are the wrestlers? I only figured out from the trademarks at the end of the credtits that “David Otunga” must be a wrestler. Whoever he played, I didn’t notice him. This is part of a new strategy for WWE Studios, producing movies with respectable non-wrestler casts, and even acquiring indie movies made by other people such as the horror movie THE DAY.

Obviously I’m against it. If they are good at it they should do it and call it something else that doesn’t have “W” in the title, unless it stands for something besides “Wrestling,” such as “Wildlife.” Before this current reach for legitimacy they were on a roll with a number of solid DTV releases across different genres, and what united them was that they all had a wrestler as the lead or co-lead. And the mainstream doesn’t respect that, but that’s because fuck the mainstream, they don’t know what they’re talking about. I, as a non-wrestling-watcher, can still respect that these guys have a type of screen presence and action ability that there’s not enough of in modern movies, and I want to see more of it. Any fuckin body can make movies starring non-wrestlers, why would WWE Studios put down the one and only weapon they have?

It’s true that Music Television stopped showing music and Cartoon Network shows stuff that isn’t cartoons and the Golf Network is now mostly reruns of Golden Girls. But shouldn’t there be SOMETHING that we can believe in? Someone we can trust to be true to their name, and their code? I nominate WWE Studios to be the ones to stop fucking around and lead us boldly into a future of integrity and Triple-H/Parker Posey re-teams.

Ding ding ding. The bell has rung, and the decision is final. Next time I see Halle Berry headlining a WWE Studios release it better be a buddy cop movie with her and The Undertaker.

The screenplay for THE CALL is by Richard D’Ovidio, which I only mention because he was one of the writers of EXIT WOUNDS. The director is Brad Anderson, who I keep rooting for. I had alot of hope for him because of THE MACHINIST, and I thought TRANSSIBERIAN was pretty good too, but the high concept horror movie VANISHING ON 7TH STREET really didn’t work for me. By “didn’t work for me” I mean it was about an invasion of evil shadows and I thought it was totally asinine. In the couple years since that he’s alot of TV and now this movie, which shows little evidence of the atmosphere and subtlety that used to seem like his main thing. But, you know, I enjoyed watching it one time. I can’t deny that. It’s gonna play like gangbusters on Lifetime.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 1:48 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “The Call”

  1. it’s hard to believe this is from the director of SESSION 9, which was such an odd and unique horror movie

  2. Hopefully they won’t replace Kane with Kane Hodder (or Robert Englund) in SEE NO EVIL 2.

  3. That Perfect Polly commercial was absolutely crazy. Who thought selling anamatronic birds to old people was a good idea? Also, it’s “soothing song” made me want to strangle someone after a minute and forty-five seconds. I guess it’s bizarre stuff like Perfect Polly that I miss out on by not having cable.

    I’m usually rooting for Brad Anderson. His TV work is actually pretty good. He has done a number of memorable Fringe episodes. And of course Session 9 was a great little indie horror. I didn’t mind the evil shadows movie, either. The Call was a surprise box office hit, so maybe he has a future making films with larger budgets. But I don’t really know jack all about how Hollywood makes its decisions, so maybe not.

  4. anyone remember Brad Anderson’s MASTERS OF HORROR episode?

  5. I worked with Morris Chestnut a few years ago. He’s a really cool guy.

  6. Man, I love David Otunga. Here’s this guy with a ridiculous build and good looks, his law degree from fucking Harvard, is dating Jennifer Hudson and has an adorable child with her, and is (from everyone I know who has had to work with him) a really nice and humble dude. He’s just the best. But, he’s a terrible wrestler. Just awful. Instead of feeling bad for the guy, I just imagine David Otunga is living out the old Mongol wish of having all your dreams, save one, come true and being a competent wrestler is that one unattainable dream.

  7. grimgrinningchris

    August 8th, 2013 at 6:47 am

    THE MACHINIST is one of my favorite movies of the 2000s. And its director is now relegated to THIS? And its writer relegated to 70s horror remakes (though I actually did like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR remake- a helluva lot better than the original, actually- and most everyone’s first run in with Chlie Grace Moretz, plus Rachel Nichols at her very hottest)? At least its star has done pretty well for himself in the time since…

  8. grimgrinningchris

    August 8th, 2013 at 6:50 am

    And yeah, this does sound like a Lifetime original. Speaking of Lifetime…what’s with them showing that one VanDamme/Rosanna Arquette movie and then just totally leaving VanDamme out of the commercials. Did they computer-erase him out of the movie and replace him with Jimmy Smits or Meredith Baxter-Birney?

  9. I had not heard from any reliable sources on this one until now, but coming from Brad Anderson, I had my fingers crossed that this would be a good one. Session 9 and The Machinist are decent, but for me, his film Happy Accidents is the one that is seriously overlooked. Check it out.

  10. Jesus Christ, Brad Anderson directed this? He was pretty much batting 1000% until VANISHING (which was even sort of good, just not great) but wow, this one looks just awful. I really though he was going on to become of of the classic directors of this generation.

    Romans — you’re right, HAPPY ACCIDENTS is extremely overlooked. But in all fairness, it does have literally one of the worst covers of all time:

  11. The cast of THE CALL is diverse in the best way possible. You got good roles for black actors & actresses that don’t rely on their blackness as a plot point; good roles for women and a script that passes the Bechdel test; good characters that are professional, competent, even heroic public employees; you got a guy in a wheelchair, but that’s never even remarked upon; you got victimized teenage girls with insecurity & immaturity issues, but they’re allowed to be real people and they’re never over-sexualized or exploited by the camera or by the costume department; and you got a madman who’s fuckin’ evil, but he’s also not completely unbelievable or un-pitiable.

    I’m not itching to rewatch it, but I enjoyed THE CALL quite a bit, though yeah it’d be a much better movie if 60% of its script weren’t crying & yelling.

    And I actually enjoyed the SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
    SPOILER
    SPOILER
    controversial stupid ending, too. Gotta love that American flag in the background, framing & “patriotically” overseeing the dubious victors as they go Above The Law to basically rendition their captive to a permanent punishment in the underground torture chamber. It’s very subtle political commentary in my opinion. I laughed, but it made me think, so I respect it. END SPOILEREND SPOILEREND SPOILEREND SPOILEREND SPOILEREND SPOILER
    END SPOILER

  12. William Friedkin recommended this movie on Twitter.

    Vern – isn’t THE CALL the biggest hit WWE Studios has ever had? For Hollywood studio standards, a cheap B-movie that made a profit.

    “Next time I see Halle Berry headlining a WWE Studios release it better be a buddy cop movie with her and The Undertaker.”

    Honestly I’m surprised they haven’t produced a vehicle for him. Back in his biker gimmick days, you could have him be in a biker movie. I seem to remember John Milius at one point contracted to make a biker movie vehicle for Triple H.

    Oh God imagine back in the day with Paul Bearer before he passed away to the Morgue in the sky? That would’ve been awesome.

  13. I’m with the rest of you guys. It’s sort of shocking that he went from Session 9 (personally tied with the Descent for my favorite horror film of the 2000s), the Machinist and Happy Accidents to this. I haven’t written him off yet but…

  14. I think I read an interview somewhere that explained WWE Studios new strategy. Nobody except wrestling fans and the wrestling-curious are going to see an action vehicle starring The Miz, but by hiring known actors and putting wrasslers in minor roles they appeal to a much bigger audience. Apparently it’s been working like gangbusters.

    My main problem with the WWE Studios action films is that the fight scenes don’t seem to incorporate wrestling skills at all. Where are all the wrestling moves? I want flips and throws and chokeslams. I want to see a wrestler pile-driving a terrorist through a flimsy table.

  15. Why are people who haven’t seen THE CALL saying mean things about this movie? It’s an above-average genre thriller starring one of the most famous, most beautiful persons in the world giving a serious performance she seems to really care about even though the premise & direction of it is kinda funny, and the movie is entertaining start-to-finish in a way that engages the viewer, doesn’t have any dealbreaking plotholes, facilitates thought & conversation if you watch it with a friend/hook-up, and doesn’t punish or demand too much of you.

    I wish there were a lot more of this type of film.

  16. Mouth: Guilt by association. I can’t look at this film without thinking of dumb, ridiculous Halle Berry thrillers like GOTHIKA and PERFECT STRANGER.

  17. As a fellow Clevelander, I’ve always rooted for Halle Berry. She might not always be in the best movies, but she sure as hell gives her all in whatever film she finds herself in. The previews for The Call didn’t look great, but I was happy to hear that it outperformed expectations for both Anderson and Halle Berry. Despite the Oscar win, I always get the sense that Halle Berry is still an underrated actress.

  18. I heard that this movie teases it’s ending when Halle Berry hangs up the phone, which you have to admit would have been a ballsy ending.

    WWE Films needs to cast Bray Wyatt in something, stat
    http://youtu.be/6HzXIyma3_w

  19. Speaking of Sheamus, he’s going to be out the next 4-6 months after his labrum in his left shoulder, which allegedly happened at the last PPV.

  20. Vern, have you ever seen THAT’S WHAT I AM? I fits the WWE classic model because Randy Orton is in it, but really it’s an Ed Harris kids movie, and it’s great.

  21. The Call was fun but I wish my girlfriend cared enough to post stuff on the Internet. She told me an epic takedown of Session 9 that was truly epic. Needless to say she hated Session 9.

  22. The original Paul

    August 9th, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Mouth – you’ve sold me for one. And yeah, I usually like this kind of genre movie.

  23. I haven’t seen it Fred, but I’m glad you keep reminding me because I do want to get to it.

  24. Stershein, your girlfriend and I will have to respectfully agree to disagree. Session 9 wasn’t perfect, but it has so much about it that works for me that I can look past its flaws.

  25. Just a heads up, David Otunga played Morris Chestnut’s partner. Just thought I’d let you know.

  26. Griff, I remember it being one of the better episodes in Season 2. I have it, I need to watch it again.

  27. So I actually wound up quite enjoying this. It was really well paced and the tension was well built and released over and over again. Yes, the last act got a little muddled and overwrought (and while the motivations were explained, they actually kinda weren’t) but still satisfying.
    I feel kind of creepy now though having ogled Breslin in just a bra. Is she even 18 yet? That’s just wrong.

    Oh and I never would have guessed which actor/character was the pro wrestler.

  28. Well let me say what I’m sure everybody who’s seen this is thinking: “The Call” is a remake of “Under Siege”, but from the perspective of the girl in the war room who takes all the messages.

    I mean, think about this. We have:

    – Underground chamber where people are left to die, marked by American flag. (Marking the horrific torture room with a giant flag of the great US of A was kinda awesome by the way. No offence meant to the resident Americans of course – I know most of you aren’t into that stuff.)
    – Villain with a giant blonde wig.
    – Also a villain with a something of an obsession with music, as well as frequent references to same by many characters throughout the film.
    – A villain underestimating the lead protagonist because of their occupation: “You’re just the operator!” versus “He’s just a cook!” (Ahh, Gary Busey. No offence meant to Eklund but “The Call” could definitely have done with more Busey in it.)

    Ok… more seriously now… I thought this was a great little thriller. I disagree completely with Vern on this part of his review though:

    “The problem is we get so much needless 911 information that it starts to seem like they did all this research and didn’t have the discipline to leave out the stuff that didn’t fit.”

    See, I thought that the movie did a perfect job of introducing us to “the hive” and the people within it. I didn’t think it was overdone at all; I thought that the movie needed that introduction to its main location and the characters within it before the serious part kicked in.

    And talking of the secondary characters, what I really liked about this was that Halle Berry has a great support system. Her boss, who might’ve been portrayed as a cold unfeeling bureaucrat or a bullying asshole, is a genuinely likeable character, as are her co-workers. And you know that in a lesser movie Morris Chestnut’s character would’ve cheated on her and they’d have broken up six months ago and they’d have had a secondary plotline about Berry learning to trust him. This movie did NOT need stuff like that, and thankfully it doesn’t have it. Chestnut is really good – he takes a fairly slight part and infuses it with the same natural charisma that he showed in… “Under Siege 2”? (Ok, maybe a bad example.) Anyway, he makes this fairly underwritten character likeable enough to be memorable.

    My only minor problems with the movie come in Act 3. I’m afraid that when Berry drops her phone, I did give an involuntary guffaw. (Yes, a guffaw.) And honestly, when we start to learn more about Eklund’s character, he becomes less of a hunting animal and more of a bog-standard misogynist bastard, which is NOT an improvement. The best comparison I can think of is if Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs” had given Jodie Foster a speech about how she wasn’t worthy of killing him because she’s just a woman. Only that’s too nineties for “The Call” so the villain picks on Berry’s job instead. “You’re just the operator!” I mean… really? Movie, you’re gonna reduce your villain to that?

    Anyway, despite those issues, I really enjoyed this film. It’s tense, it’s well-paced, the characters are well-portrayed for what they need to be, and I agree totally with Mouth about the “inclusiveness” of the film. Would definitely recommend this one to people who like tense police procedurals.

  29. Mouth went through a pretty good list of what worked well about this movie, and why it resonated so well with audiences (I’m really surprised it did as well at the box office as it did). I love the working-class feel of the 911 scenes, the diverse characters, the clever 2nd act. But yeah, that 3rd act drops the ball in almost every way. I already knew the 3rd act leaves the call center since the trailer gives it away and everyone already complained about it. And I don’t entirely have a problem with that structure (Die Hard 3, Speed, Con Air, etc.. moved the action away from the main setting, so I almost expect it now)

    But man, I wish they came up with a better solution than “she went to the same house the SWAT team were just at an hour or so ago but finds the hidden lair they somehow missed”. Not to mention I have the feeling the cops would still be there tearing up the place for clues or evidence. The final fight feels underwritten and understaged. The last “revenge” scene reeks of reshoots and seems like it’s out of another, darker movie (though i did laugh at Berry’s ridiculous last line).

    But I guess my main beef was that there’s almost no payoff to Berry and Breslin finally meeting! It’d be like at the end of Die Hard if McClane and Powell didn’t have that emotional meeting and big hug at the end and it just jumped straight into Powell shooting Karl. I expected them to at least share a moment at the end after defeating the bad guy but I guess an abrupt ending/one liner was more important to show. Anyways, I still like this movie despite all this – i have a soft spot for anything non-remake, non-sequel that actually makes it to theaters, even though I would totally be up for a sequel to this that ironed out the problems this one had.

  30. Can’t believe I didn’t post this yet but my Franchise Fred idea for THE CALL II is that Breslin grows up to become a 911 operator like the woman who saved her life and she and Berry have to save a new caller together. Get on this WWE.

  31. Yes, but what will the novelty sequel title be? THE CALL BACK? THE CALL 2: THE OTHER LINE?

  32. The funny thing is I remember the original title was “The Hive” (referring to the 911 call center) and the characters still say “The Hive” a few times and explain why they call it that and everything like it’s the title. The Call is totally a more generic title but i guess that’s good since it doesn’t sound like a sci-fi movie or bring back memories of that awesome Wicker Man remake.

    I would totally be down with Fred’s idea for a sequel, or any sequel in general – the opening third in the call center feels like a TV show pilot, and I mean that in the best possible way. I want to spend more time with these characters.

    Oh, re: the ending – so basically they’re leaving the guy in there to starve to death? I’m not saying it’s not deserved, but there’s a ton of his victim’s scalps down there – I guess their families won’t ever get closure or anything. And wait – their story is that they’ll tell the cops Breslin escaped and Berry found her in the woods? So LA will be terrified about that serial killer/scalper who got away? I mean, it’s not a Time to Kill-type situation where the movie establishes this guy is going to get off scot-free – he’s not high-powered or a politician or anything and his own wife kinda seemed like she wasn’t surprised he was a killer. It just seems like the ending was rewrote by people who were watching another movie.

  33. Checking back in with the comments here over three years later because of two burning issues:

    1) Vern, did you eventually watch That’s What I Am?

    2) To anyone/everyone reading this, Happy Accidents is a movie, the existence of which I like to bring up just in case seeing the title compels anyone to seek it out. Happy Accidents.

  34. I’m afraid I completely forgot about THAT’S WHAT I AM.

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