“The Call” is one of the most perplexing films to come across my path in a long time. Not perplexing in terms of its plot, which is very much straight forward, but rather in the series of dumb decisions made by multiple characters throughout the story. It might be passable to have one or two, or perhaps even more if this were a horror film, where such things are commonplace, but to have one piled right on top of the other in a thriller where we’re supposed to be buying into everything that’s happening merely changes it into something else entirely.
The plot revolves around Jordan Turner (Halle Berry), a 911 dispatcher who has recently had a traumatic experience at her job that resulted in the death of a young girl. A few months after the event, she’s now teaching new dispatchers the ins and outs of the job. Right in the middle of this training, a recent recruit gets a call from a young girl, Casey (Abigail Breslin), who’s been abducted from a mall parking lot and locked in the trunk of a car. Not knowing how to handle the situation, the dispatcher panics, causing Jordan to take over the call. Whether she’s ready or not, the life of another young girl is suddenly thrust into her hands.
Sounds fairly generic, no? That actually ends up being one of the best ways to describe the plot. As you would expect, much of the film is filled with scenes of trying to locate the car by various methods, with several scenes of Jordan trying to keep Casey calm over the phone. Such scenes should be thrilling and emotional, but here they are anything but. This is a thriller that basically has nothing to offer. Well, almost nothing to offer, which brings be back to what I was talking about at the start: the series of dumb decisions made by the characters.
Let’s start from the beginning. As I mentioned, the event that traumatized Jordan resulted in the death of a young girl, but how did that come to be? A really dumb move on Jordan’s part that had her calling the young girl back after the call was disconnected. This wouldn’t normally be a bad thing, if it hadn’t been for the fact that the young girl was hiding from a home invader, something Jordan was fully aware of. Remember, she’s a professional 911 dispatcher, or so we’re supposed to believe.
The kidnaper himself was not immune to the effect either, resulting in him failing to check his victim for a cell phone and clumsily leaving behind enough evidence to get himself identified, all of this after a member of the CSI team refers to him as “smart.” We could also get into how Casey fails to utilize a couple methods of escape, but we can let her off the hook as she’s in a rather tense situation. It’s a shame the same could not be said for the audience, who are too busy shaking their heads in disbelief to get engaged with her problem.
All of this adds up to one of the most unbelievable films I’ve seen in a while, and the issues don’t even end there. Are we supposed to believe that all the assistance that the dispatch office has access to is unable to find a vehicle that they’ve nailed down the description of, has a broken taillight, and is dripping paint out the back to make a trail? Add to that the fact that they even know what road it’s on. Perhaps it’s simply the most incompetent police force in the country.
By the time we get to the third act, which involved Jordan making a completely inexplicable decision, you start to realize you’ve gotten far more laughs out of the film than thrills. In fact, much of the film is downright hilarious, which caused the theater to shake with laughter several times throughout. If I had to take a guess, I’d say that this probably wasn’t the writer’s intention, but it’s rather hard to avoid when you decide to throw reality out the window.
As far as the performances go, there’s not really much to note. Berry gives a very perfunctory performance, looking as though she’d rather be elsewhere, whereas Breslin doesn’t get much to do besides cry and panic. It’s not really their fault that the material is sub-par, though you do have to question as to why they would sign on for something like this when it was clear that a total rewrite was needed.
Still, the film earns points for giving several laughs, which were entirely unexpected given the nature of the story. It makes me wonder whether the movie would have worked if there hadn’t been any reason to laugh, or would the generic plot still have caused it to collapse? For all we know, the writer could have intended it as a black comedy, but again, it’s doubtful. Whatever the intent was, what we get is one of the most hilarious and unbelievable thrillers made in the last few years. When it was over, I merely found myself hoping that they don’t really put lives into the hands of people this stupid. 2/4 stars.
Starts tomorrow in theaters everywhere.