Starring Halle Berry & Abigail Breslin
Directed by Brad Anderson
R, released March 15, 2013
Some people go to movies to relax, laugh, kick back, forget their troubles or release the tensions of the outside world.
“The Call” isn’t that kind of movie. It’s a tightly wound, sometimes terrifying reminder of the real-life horrors that everyone fears could happen to them—or their children.
When a veteran 911 operator (Halle Berry) gets a frantic cell-phone call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who’s been abducted from a Los Angeles shopping mall and thrown into a car trunk, it begins a life-or-death race to save the youngster before she becomes the next victim of a sick-o serial killer.
To add a (vital) dramatic wrinkle, Berry’s character, Jordan, is recovering from an on-the-job trauma of six months ago, when a mistake she made on her switchboard contributed to the kidnapping and grisly murder of another teenage girl. It’s just a matter of time before Jordan, using her keen ear, figures out that the same creepy killer is behind both abductions.
And it’s also just a matter of time, don’t know you, until Jordan breaks her own cardinal rules of working as a 911 operator: “Stay emotionally detached. And never ever make promises, ’cause you can’t keep ’em.”
Not only does Jordan reassuringly promise Breslin’s character, Casey, that she’ll be rescued, but she also puts on her Nancy Drew “girl detective” pants, so involved is she, and heads out to do her own sleuthing work when the cops—including her hunky boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) and his hunky partner (former WWE wrestler David Otunga)—hit a dead end.
Michael Eklund plays the kinky killer as a truly unhinged psycho, a normal-looking family man with kids and a wife who have no idea of his extracurricular activities—or his twisted sister issues going back to childhood. Michael Imperioli (son Christopher on “The Sopranos”) makes the most of his brief part as a limo driver who has a highway encounter with the abductor.
And Breslin, whose character goes for that vile and violent trunk ride and ends up strapped to a gurney in a Lair of Unspeakable Horrors, weeping and begging to be dispatched rather than subjected to the god-awful fate she knows awaits her… Well, she’s certainly come a long way since “Little Miss Sunshine,” the uplifting movie comedy that put her on the map as a loveably geeky 11-year-old in 2006.
A promising young actress, now 18, she’s no doubt got a lot of movies ahead of her. Perhaps her next ones will offer her more scenes in which she gets to be upright, and more dialogue beyond desperate yelps of “Please help me!!!,” “Noooo!!!” and “I don’t want to die!!!”
The movie has some elements of a good, gripping thriller-chiller early on, when we’re immersed in the teeming, humming world of the 911 call center “hive,” and when Jordan and the police use all their forensic skills to piece together a trail of scattered clues (broken bits of glass, background noises, splatters of paint, information from a dead man’s wallet) that help them close in on the killer.
But things then devolve into an exploitative, even trashy wallow in the gratuitous, especially when Breslin is relieved of half her clothes and spends the movie’s entire third act—its most blatantly borrowed “Silence of the Lambs” segment—luridly stripped down to her bra.
The story also hinges on some absolutely preposterous plot turns, not the least of which is its ludicrous “payback” ending, an impossibility to imagine after what’s just gone before it—except, of course, in the movies.
I suspect a lot of folks, ones who tune in each week to TV’s “Criminal Minds,” the “C.S.I.” procedurals and other nitty-gritty cop shows where detectives delve into all sort of unsavory, graphically depicted misdeeds, won’t flinch at the sight of pretty teenage girls being scared out of their minds, menaced, mauled, beaten, sliced, and treated as the sexualized objects of a grown man’s perverted fantasy. To some, it’s just another story on another screen.
Others, however, should be advised that this “Call,” a rather unsavory experience overall made even less pleasant by its ultimate pandering to the basest of its audience’s entertainment tastes, is one with which they just might not want to connect at all.