The Call

May, 2013, Thriller


Writer/director Larry Cohen, whose prolific output of B-movies & television series makes him one of Hollywood’s moneymaking staples in the industry, has a thing about telephones; land line, public & mobile. He was responsible for Phone Booth, (2002) in which Colin Farrell found himself trapped by a pay phone for 90 minutes as he battled a demented Kiefer Sutherland on the other end of the line. Cohen followed that effort with Cellular, (2004) a nifty thriller starring Kim Bassinger as a kidnapped school teacher who rigs up the remnants of a smashed cell phone to enlist the help of policeman William H. Macy in warding off a blood thirsty hitman bent on destroying her husband and son. Alexander Bell would surely be amused at the degree to which his invention has become not just a film prop, but a principal character in any number of today’s high-octane action movies. 

Cohen has since moved on to other bloodthirsty storylines, but now comes career stunt man-turned director Brad Anderson, who puts Halle Berry through her paces as a staffer at L.A.’s emergency services office. A nutcase is kidnapping young girls who just happen to have access to their mobile phones and the presence of mind to dial 911. Berry unwittingly botches her initial effort to thwart an abduction but recognizes the kidnapper’s scenario in a subsequent attack that occurs some months later. 

Thanks to a plot loaded with more improbabilities than a Grimm’s fairytale, Barry keeps the latest victim (played by Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine’s obnoxious dancing twerp) on a succession of three mobiles as her deranged abductor races all over Los Angeles, oblivious to the screams coming from the trunk of his car. Paint spills, screwdriver stabbings and a gasoline sponge baths occur before The Call laughably channels Silence of the Lamb’s spookiness through a denouement which finds Berry & Breslin behaving with a demented viciousness worthy of the film’s scenery-chewing villain.

While the initial kidnapping scenes are present with brisk efficiency, screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio’s clichéd script unhappily combines with the cast’s inability to breath any life (much less credibility) into the script. Berry’s ability to express emotional immobility was used to stunning effect a dozen years ago in Monster’s Ball, but she wanders from indecision to near emotional breakdown here, searching for a way to lend some credibility to her lackluster lines while Breslin’s part calls for little more than whimpers & crying. As the plot spirals out of control  Call just dials up the blood and violence. Today’s jaded audiences have already been there and done that…

The Verdict? With pun firmly intended, this one runs out of gas well before the end of its brief 94 minute running time.

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