Call, The (United States, 2013)March 15, 2013
Note: This review contains spoilers. It isn't possible to discuss the full breadth of The Call's stupidity without providing some specifics.
Labeling The Call as "relentlessly dumb" would be an overestimation of its intelligence. This is as brain-dead as a movie can be and it assumes the audience will have the I.Q. of a rutabaga. I suspected I might be in trouble when the opening credits proudly proclaim that The Call is a "WWE Production." Uh-oh. Granted, I wasn't expecting a high-caliber art film (although, once upon a time, Brad Anderson was an indie director - The Machinist, anyone?) but the WWE isn't exactly known for gripping storylines and well-developed characters. The pedigree runs true.
Things don't start out too badly. In fact, they begin with a whiff of verisimilitude. I don't know what a 911 call center looks like but I can believe it's something similar to what's shown in The Call. We're introduced to operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry), who appears to be one of the best at what she does. Things take a turn for the worse for Jordan, however, when a caller is kidnapped as a result of a mistake Jordan makes. After the initial call is disconnected while the victim is hiding from her stalker, Jordan foolishly hits the "dial back" button and the ringing of the phone alerts the intruder to the girl's location. After this incident, Jordan takes herself off the active roster and becomes a 911 instructor - until she's pressed back into emergency duty.
The bulk of the movie follows a call from another kidnap victim, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), who is trapped in the trunk of her abductor's car. The Call's intention is build suspense during these sequences but it misses the mark in generating tension. Mostly it's just Casey whimpering and whining and the police showing a shocking lack of ability. Throw in some scenes of the nutso kidnapper (Michael Eklund) frothing at the mouth. There are some clever conceits, such as when Jordan suggests Casey kick out a taillight and stick her arm through the resulting opening to attract attention. But the contrivances and coincidences, which reach a fevered pitch during the final 30 minutes, begin their germination here. My sense is that Anderson is trying to replicate the kind of taut, claustrophobic intensity evident in the underappreciated Buried. If that's the case, he fails completely. Both characters (victim and operator) are poorly realized. Their relationship is artificial and Jordan comes across as unprofessional, breaking every one of the "rules" she teaches operators to follow. (Don't get personally involved, don't make promises you can't keep, etc.)
The Call goes off the rails as it approaches the climax. Once the call with Casey is terminated at a critical juncture, Jordan decides to take matters into her own hands. So, distrusting the police department's ability to get the job done, she goes on a one-woman hunt for the missing girl and, incredibly, finds her! Yes, she's a regular Ms. Sherlock Holmes. Then, upon discovering the psycho's lair, does she call for backup? No - she don't need no stinkin' backup! (The screenplay's lame attempt to provide logic for this decision is a laughably absurd.) Horror movie scream queens everywhere would welcome Jordan into their ranks. She commits all the classic idiot-blunders of those characters including the biggest one of all: turning her back on a supposed "downed" killer. Now, we all know that these guys always get up. Doesn't she watch Jason Michael Krueger movies?
By whining and being generally unconvincing, Abigail Breslin quickly got on my nerves. I was a little surprised to discover how much she has matured since that last time I recall seeing her (Zombieland). I mean, she has breasts. Now, before accusing me of being a sexist pig, consider that Anderson elects to highlight this physiological fact by having Breslin spend the last quarter of the movie in her bra. There's no doubt she is being presented as a sex object (and don't give me any crap about it being "necessary to the story"). Halle Berry, on the other hand, is allowed to keep her shirt on. This is expected: Hollywood (or should I say the WWE) is a lot more interested in the breasts of 17-year olds than those of 46-year olds.
I am willing to credit The Call for one thing. In the sea of mediocre movies represented by the first quarter of the year, this successfully calls attention to itself by being just plain bad. This is one of those films that's ripe for mockery. It can be lampooned and ridiculed and jeered at. It has little value as a serious drama or thriller but as an object of derision... Mystery Science 3000 was made for efforts like this one.
Call, The (United States, 2013)
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund
Screenplay: Richard D'Ovidio
Cinematography: Tom Yatsko
Music: John Debney
U.S. Distributor: TriStar Pictures