When 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.
Part 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.
That 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 a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.