Mark Reviews Movies

The Call


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brad Anderson

Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Michael Eklund, Morris Chestnut, Roma Maffia, Michael Imperioli

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, disturbing content and some language)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 3/15/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 14, 2013

In between the extended prologue and ridiculously out-of-character third act of The Call, there is a clever little thriller in which two people restricted by circumstances try to outwit a villain with far greater access to whatever he needs. The dual protagonists work in tandem over the phone, coming up with and executing resourceful, impromptu decisions. Every one of those choices has repercussions; the only thing predictable about the consequences is that they will inevitably happen in order to keep the central conflict moving foward.

There's a tight, logical (relatively speaking, of course) progression to the events of the chase and a devious sort of logic in the way screenwriter Richard D'Ovidio implements Murphy's law to ensure it's never easy for our heroines. Surely, there's some discomfort in the way that translates into punishment for a kidnapped teenage girl, but it's not until the movie's climax that D'Ovidio and director Brad Anderson start wallowing in that abuse. There are far worse things—at least in terms of structure, tone, and unwise behavior from characters who have proven themselves much smarter the rest of the time—in that finale, though, to keep us somewhat distanced from the unnecessary horror unfolding (A shot of someone being scalped only for the purpose of producing false tension is flagrantly gratuitous).

It takes a while to get to that point, and until then, the movie works. After some basic exposition, it opens with Jordan Turner (Halle Berry), a 911 dispatcher, receiving a call from a teenage girl reporting a man breaking into her home. Jordan has the girl hide in her room and trick the burglar into think she's jumped out a window to escape. When the call is disconnected, Jordan takes a split second to consider her options and redials the number, alerting the man to the girl's presence. The next day, the girl's body is found.

Six months later, Jordan is a trainer for new employees at the call center; she takes pills for anxiety and suffers from panic attacks. Meanwhile at a mall, another teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin) is out with a friend who leaves behind a disposable cell phone. On her way to her car in the garage, a man (Michael Eklund, playing up the external trappings of his character's insanity to sometimes unintentionally comedic effect) almost backs his car into Casey; in the shock that follows, he grabs her, covers her face with a rag doused in chloroform, and locks her in the trunk.

Casey awakens, alone in the dark of the compact space of the trunk of her assailant's car, and calls 911. The operator on the other end doesn't know what to do, so Jordan, who has been listening in, takes over the call.

Both characters are extremely limited in what they can do—Jordan to help Casey and Casey to help herself. The only tool they have at first is information, and even that is inadequate. Casey can describe the man in vague terms and the car in an equally nonspecific manner. For her part, Jordan can inform the police of the information Casey has given her, but her and the unseen tech people's ability to track the girl is hindered by the lack of GPS on the disposable phone Casey is using (Yes, the fact that hers breaks just before she's abducted is a transparent complication, but it's a necessary and forgivable one).

It's a seemingly impossible situation. What can either of them do? The solution is a simple one: make do with the resources available. Jordan, who has a preternatural knowledge of the manufacturing of cars, suggests that Casey knock out the rear taillight and wave her arm out the hole. Surely, someone will notice, and if and when that person does, they'll call 911. There's a sense of teamwork at play throughout the plot (An early promise that Jordan makes—that the best people in the city are working to find her—seems like a throwaway line at first, but it turns out to be something of a driving philosophy).

As Jordan devises various ploys for Casey to get people's attention, the police, including her former or current boyfriend Paul (Morris Chestnut) and a police helicopter, are trying to find the car. Certainly that paint in the trunk could serve as a way to mark the car's trail and make it easier for the police to spot it. Random motorists, like an uncharacteristically but appreciatively helpful one played by Michael Imperioli, unwittingly do their part, and again, split second decisions have consequences that could put the entire operation of finding Casey in jeopardy.

D'Ovidio fits in a few surprises along the way (Most of them involve Imperioli's character). Then The Call takes an unfortunate turn in the third act that puts Jordan on her own. An incredibly poorly timed case of butterfingers and the really bad decision that results (We know she's too smart and too aware of how a choice like this could turn out terribly to believe she would do it) put her in the lair of the beast, and the movie turns into a standard-issue horror how with a side of passive vengeance. Neither fits what has come before it, and both undermine what is otherwise an effective thriller.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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