‘The Call’ is a relatively tense, nail-biting film for its first hour, as we watch the abduction of a teen (Abigail Breslin) and the on-the-line 911 operator (Halle Berry), who is desperately trying to save her. But, the film’s last half-hour completely abandons its former semi-realistic approach, bombing badly, and leaves the audience with a shallow, laughable ending.
‘The Call’ begins auspiciously with a gorgeous fly-over Los Angeles while the audio of numerous and overlapping 911 calls play, giving the audience some indication of the vast and varied number of emergency calls that the LA 911 call center (called ‘The Hive,’ which was the film’s original title) receives daily. Jordan Turner (Berry) is one of those very skilled, veteran emergency 911 operators, who becomes shaken to her core when she, in a live call, is unable to save a female teen caller from a male home intruder, who kills the girl. Over a period of months, beset with post-traumatic symptoms and anti-anxiety medication, Jordan eventually becomes a 911 trainer, attempting to avoid taking any more live calls. However, one day during training, a pressured, breathy, frantic call comes into the Hive from a teenager, Casey (Breslin), who has just been abducted and thrown into the trunk of a now-moving car. Jordan takes the call from an overwhelmed young operator, and now must quickly overcome her past traumatic experience, keep the teen on-the-line, and use every asset she can muster in order to save Casey’s life.
The film moves quickly after the abduction, and director Brad Anderson does a good job in viscerally conveying Casey’s seeming claustrophobia in the small trunk and the horror of what she will witness from her captor, Michael (Michael Eklund), along the way. Numerous dead ends and wrong leads, lead the police astray from finding Casey, reminding the viewer, somewhat, of the superior ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ As Jordan, though, Berry has to relate ways that Casey can try to save herself, tips that seem to have come straight out of the viral ‘Nine Safety Tips’ for women email that circulated almost a decade ago. And yet, although cliched, Berry pulls out some deep acting chops, and the audience is easily pulled into what is often just a two-person movie. All of the richness of the action-drama screeches to a halt in its third act, when Casey must protractedly suffer in Michael’s bunker of torture. What was a reasonably engaging film, becomes overly long scenes of the underage, bra-clad teen’s suffering. To add insult to this injury, the formerly whip-smart Jordan suddenly makes a series of ridiculous, non-realistic decisions (which are over-the-top, symbolically punctuated by a scene where a flag flies behind her a la Superman). Although the film’s last act assumes guise of promoting ‘female power,’ it really is just an exercise in ludicrousness. ‘The Call’ is rated 2 of 5 (‘not recommended’) stars.
‘The Call’ is rated R for ‘violence, disturbing content and some language.’ It opens today, nationwide.
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