Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Call

Halle Berry shows a steely reserve (along with a sadly unflattering hairdo) in the procedural thriller The Call.  While a film is a minor and by the numbers production, the actress displays such an economical, vanity-free professionalism, that it's almost just enough to let the films ludicrousness off with a free pass in a refrain of drinking the junky, seemingly made-for-TV Kool-Aid.  Stitched together with the tiniest morsel of a plot thread (credited to four writers, no less), The Call, by early set-up almost manages something a bit nifty in garnering small thrills just on the prickly premises of a phone call.  Berry plays Jordan, a sharp and cool 911 telephone operator who unravels when overhearing the murder of a young teenage girl.  Withdrawn and not fully mended, the headstrong Jordan gets off the calls but moves instead to trainer to future operators when she's drawn again in "the hive" when a new teenage girl calls after being abducted.  Haunted, but like the actress playing her, the epitome of workmanlike, Jordan takes over the call.  The girl in question is Casey (Abigal Breslin) and the first half of The Call basically revolves around unfolding the mystery of where she is and how to bring her to safety. 

The audience is fully aware of where this is going, and the ubiquitous trailer that seemingly played in cinemas for years at this point pretty much spilled the beans on the set-up.  However, there's the slightest bit of pleasure in the opening sections of The Call because Berry displays such poise, ease and even authority in a role that required little less than ones attendance.  And there's a scant bit of taut showmanship in the early sections of the film.  Directed by Brad Anderson, a filmmaker who made his mark with the romantic indie Next Stop Wonderland (2001) and gravitated more towards the thriller genre with films like The Machinst (2004) and the underrated Transsiberian (2008.)  The Call marks his first stab at mainstream attention, or a paycheck.  The problem, either attributed to fatigue to a script that knew not what to do with its silly premise is that the film drifts into such a lazy and predictable mystery, discrediting nearly anything that was slightly engaging or thoughtful in the first act.  Berry and Breslin, as well as the immensely gifted and underused Roma Maffia (who plays Jordan's boss) cobble enough synthetic sympathy in their broad characterizations that the lack of character development is nearly excusable, but the crude and sloppy villain of the piece is a third rate caricature, and a laughable one at that.

At first just a benignly creepy bad guy who over the course turns into a Buffalo Bill clone.  If you're going to riff on Ed Gein mythology, something of which great films like Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs and Texas Chainsaw Massacre all have, you kind of deserve a lashing.  C

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