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The Call Review: Wrong F*cking Number

By Agent Bedhead | Film | March 16, 2013 |

By Agent Bedhead | Film | March 16, 2013 |

As a slightly promising Halle Berry star vehicle, The Call prominently features a bad wig, a decent hour of suspense, and a bizarre ending that probably caused Halle to shake off that coiffure a few times in acknowledgment that her career has fallen this far. Berry plays Jordan, a 911 veteran at the Los Angeles Police Department’s “hive,” who has seen and heard more than most of us ever will during several lifetimes. She has a hot cop boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) and a suitcase full of traumatic baggage after she unwittingly aided a killer in locating his victim and finish the job. This incident is revealed in the early moments of the film, Jordan makes the mistake of calling a home invasion victim after their phone connection is severed. Her ring tone alerts the killer, and Jordan hears the victim lose their life. She takes some time off, pops some Xanax (or something like it), and steps away from the phones to focus on supervising the call center itself.

Good plan, right? Well, it doesn’t last long.

Unfortunately, one of Jordan’s underlings takes an emergency call that she’s unable to handle, so Jordan must step in and deal with the problem. On the other end of the phone is a young girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin), who has been abducted from the shopping mall by a generic villain, Michael (Michael Eklund); Casey has been stashed in the trunk of a moving vehicle, and her disposable cell is no help as far as GPS tracking is concerned. Breslin is great during the several scenes where she is confined to the trunk, and the feel is like that of Ryan Reynolds’ Buried as she communicates through her only lifeline, the 911 operator who must face up to the situation and forget the mistakes of the past.

The Call functions as a high-concept movie that manages to pull off the gimmick as long as Jordan remains in the 911 center. During that first hour, director Brad Anderson (Transsiberian, The Machinist, “Fringe,” Vanishing on 7th Street), who is no stranger to the art of suspense, keeps the thrills coming as Jordan advises Casey on various ways to alert passing motorists (such as smashing out brake lights from the inside of the vehicle) as to her predicament, and Michael does his best to avert attention away from his vehicle. This part is exciting as the police tracers try in vain to find Casey as Jordan remains rooted to her chair.

Once Jordan leaves the office, however, the story completely cascades into a sloshing waterfall of sloppy clichés as she valiantly struggles to save the day and, in the process, redeem herself after that never-forgotten fatal mistake. One expects from the setup that Jordan will try to right the situation herself, but it didn’t have to feel so shoehorned. Eklund, meanwhile, is not the strongest villain; in fact, he’s laughable, ruining what is already a weak third act.

From a technical standpoint, the film looks fantastic. The close-quarters camera work is strong, as is the atmospherics. The highway action is well shot, too, and the two lead female characters are well drawn for what is essentially meant to be a throwaway thriller. The Call makes it about three quarters of the way towards popcorn munching status, but then there’s a ridiculous “WTF?” ending that doesn’t jibe with the motivations of Berry’s character. This wasn’t meant to be an epic, mind-bending film, so if you take away the nonsensical, insulting ending and turn the first two acts into part one of a “CSI”-type drama, it would pass for television-grade entertainment. As a feature film, it’s a failure.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.