By Shane M. Dallmann
An irresistible William Castle-like premise, strong and shocking violence and a fine cast guaranteed that this thriller would get plenty of attention come opening weekend.
In case you missed the trailer, Halle Berry stars as Jordan Turner, a highly-respected and efficient 911 operator in Los Angeles. However, her handling of a “home invasion” call from a terrified 14-year-old girl inadvertently leads to devastating consequences, and a guilt-wracked Jordan abandons the switchboard for six months. Circumstances, of course, draw her back when the same culprit (Michael Eklund) strikes again: this time he’s kidnapped Abigail Breslin (yes, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE herself) but he doesn’t know that she’s in communication with Jordan on a conveniently untraceable cell phone.
This is exactly the sort of film that Dark Castle should be making; but wrestling fans are undoubtedly aware that it’s a co-production of WWE Studios, which learned its lesson from 12 ROUNDS and is no longer attempting to create theatrical star vehicles for its own wrestlers (DTV will do quite nicely for such projects): for the record, David Otunga makes a credible appearance in the undemanding role of the police partner of Morris Chestnut, Jordan’s close friend who spearheads the field investigation. The change of formula worked: this time WWE has a legitimate hit on its hands.
And make no mistake: THE CALL is every bit as nerve-wracking as it promises to be under the direction of Brad Anderson (SESSION 9), who brings both a SPEED sensibility to the real-time danger and jolts the viewer even when one has to know what’s coming next. Eklund is a convincingly mad and extremely dangerous psychopath, and sympathy for the simultaneous plights of Berry and Breslin comes effortlessly (one cringes at the abuse dished out to the latter, especially as the movie very carefully avoids showing you exactly what Eklund did to his first victim, but the young actress gets to do more than simply be terrified). Michael Imperioli of THE SOPRANOS also makes a welcome appearance as a Good Samaritan…
But then comes a moment where the tension breaks and the tone shifts: without giving too much away, I will simply say that we reach a point where we get to see things that Berry’s character can’t even hear about on the phone… and, well… THE CALL becomes a different movie. The type in which you’d expect Jodie Foster to show up. Of course, now I no longer have to hedge my bets when it comes to identifying this as a “horror movie.” Thankfully, Anderson keeps things compelling (if far less original) and makes you want to keep watching the story through to its conclusion; but while the very end of the film might work (and has worked) in other movies, it still seems inappropriate in THIS one (and that has nothing to do with my personal feelings as to who “deserves” what in such a scenario).
Still, despite my misgivings regarding the mechanics employed in reaching a resolution here, THE CALL still ranks as a most worthwhile and skillful thriller and comes with a strong recommendation.