With Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Michael Imperioli. Written by Richard D’Ovidio. Directed by Brad Anderson. Rated R for violence, disturbing content and some language. 90 minutes.
About an hour into THE CALL, the supervisor of the 911 operators in Los Angeles tells Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) to go home. If you have the misfortune to see this movie, wait for this moment and then go home yourself. If you do you’ll have enjoyed a suspenseful police procedural about tracking down a kidnapping victim. As Jordan is told, 911 operators don’t get closure, they try to hold things together until the first responders can take over.
In a prologue, we see that Jordan has been emotionally scarred by a call that went bad, and in which she may have inadvertently been responsible. Six months later she is no longer taking calls, but instead training new operators. Then a call comes in from Casey (Abigail Breslin) who is reporting she has been kidnapped and is in the trunk of a car. The newbie who gets the call is overwhelmed and Jordan takes over.
For an hour, we get caught up in the story and seeing how the 911 system works. If the person calling can’t identify where they are – as is the case here – they can be located through the GPS in their cell phones. The problem is that Casey’s cell phone was broken in the kidnapping and all she has is her friend’s track phone, which lacks that capability. The kidnapper (Michael Eklund) is violent, killing several people over the course of the story, so the suspense builds as the police track down each lead. Then the phone connection is broken and Jordan is told to go home. This is when you should leave.
Should you stay you will watch as the movie goes right down the tubes. Jordan turns into Nancy Drew, deciding – all alone – to go out unarmed into the field and see if she can solve the case herself. It’s all downhill from there. There’s even the moment when this supposed movie fan knocks out the bad guy and then turns her back on him. We know what’s going to happen next, right?
It’s amazing that this script could have been approved like this or that this cast would agree to it. Michael Imperioli is wasted as a witness with very little to do, while Morris Chestnut appears for the second time this year (after “Identity Thief”) as the good-looking cop who contributes nothing to the story. Did they get some casting director angry at them or are these empty roles really the best they can find?
Berry and Breslin fare best as the 911 operator and the kidnap victim, until the final half hour where what had been a credible thriller can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a horror movie or a revenge fantasy. As for director Brad Anderson, this is his return to the big screen after spending the last several years honing his skills on TV shows like “Treme,” “Fringe” and “Boardwalk Empire.” Unfortunately, he’s unable to overcome the ludicrousness of the story’s payoff. The result is that “The Call” is a cinematic crime, but unfortunately there’s no number to call to ask for help.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.