Friday, March 15, 2013

The Call

"What's Your Emergency?" A Movie In Distress

Halle Berry as Jordan Turner in Brad Anderson's psychological thriller "The Call".  Columbia/TriStar

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, March 15, 2013

Brad Anderson's psychological thriller "The Call", which opened across the U.S. and Canada today, is a tailor-made poster child for voyeurism.  "The Call" perfectly showcases the exploitation of peril displayed all-too-often on 24-hour-cable TV news: crying, mourning victims of harsh events looped endlessly and excessively for perverse theater (and YouTubing).  Halle Berry stars as Jordan Turner, a seasoned 911 operator for the L.A.P.D. who receives a traumatic distress phone call from someone that results in tragedy. 

In what is a potent, pulsating and intense opening 40 minutes, "The Call", written by Richard D'Olivio, captures and inhabits the life-and-death world of call operators with aplomb, atmosphere and a variety of calls, from the important to the inane.  Consider that in England last week a man actually phoned the country's 999 emergency line to declare that a red card issued by a referee to a United player in a recent Manchester United-Real Madrid football match was a crime.  "The Call" becomes even more inexplicable than that true story. 

We know little about Jordan or anyone else in Mr. Anderson's film, an enterprise more enamored with the lurid and tawdry than any real storytelling or logic.  "The Call" panics even more than Jordan does, becoming a pulpy schlock-horror flick that crumbles into absurdity.  Before then comes flashes of this film's ultimate nonsensical destination, notably when a concerned bystander (Michael Imperioli) sees something awry off an L.A. freeway exit with a kidnapper (Michael Eklund) who happens to have Casey (Abigail Breslin), a terrified and vulnerable captive, in the trunk of his car.  Since when, by the way, have Angelenos ever been concerned enough to roll down their car windows let alone get out of their cars to mind someone else's business on a busy freeway in their city??

For me the sole question of "The Call" is, will Jordan avoid losing the abducted Casey, a prim and innocent teenage girl, or will Jordan suffer an ignominious double whammy?  Much of "The Call" overemphasizes and glorifies the realistic, aimless menace of its psychotic villain, whose apparent heartbreak is a sister he lost to cancer, something vaguely depicted and turned into demented excess.  "The Call" exploits the kinds of things that movies without a credible script do, by expediently devolving into cliché.  For example, the cops -- in this case the overzealous L.A.P.D. -- are now conveniently a step slow when trying to capture a slippery, demented serial killer-kidnapper, for in movieland the police are always in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

As scripted, Jordan is a resilient, confident though foolish character who does things that, for the veteran 911 call operator she is, make no sense, and put lives in danger.  Jordan, a self-described Capricorn whom by nature is "a fighter", violates her own rules, and "The Call" does the same, running 180 degrees away from what makes its first half-hour or so work well as a powerful film.  It's as if the rest of "The Call" suddenly and reflexively becomes afraid of its own shadow.  To that end Mr. Anderson opts for gratuitous violence where maintaining the stress-induced atmosphere and terror of the film's opening 40 minutes would have been sensible enough. 

Mr. Anderson and Mr. D'Olivio facilitate the idea that to graduate to a resolution of crisis the two central women of "The Call" must step out of the strictured confines of their discomfort zones to become partners in the bizarre, where incompetent or punchless male cops cannot.  Such ideas are hardly novel for the big screen, but in a film that focuses on saving lives Jordan's actions come completely from left field.  Is it the medication Jordan takes that accounts for her radically different approach?  Or is it the laziness of a writer whose script needed more investigation and polishing? 

The bottom line is that two women not named Thelma or Louise are fighters participating in their own reality show of vengeance, shattering any semblance of the psychological aspects "The Call" builds so adroitly.  Until then, there is a panoply of extreme close-ups of women's bulging eyeballs: fear, and titillation of peril all rolled into one.  There's stylizing of a perpetrator in freeze-frame moments that celebrate and glorify a crazed killer.

Ms. Berry -- who truly needs to fire her agent after a litany of poor roles in bad films -- does well here in a mostly stationary role, fueling Jordan with a strong dose of compassion, realism and fortitude.  As for "The Call" itself, if nothing else it focuses on an area of life that isn't frequently seen on film.  Perhaps the last Hollywood film I can recall that approximated the desperation, hysteria and paranoia of 911 operators or responders is Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out The Dead" (1999), a wild tragicomedy with a certain vigor and tongue-in-cheek attitude that got the mania of such a hire-wire job right. 

While "The Call" tries to forge emotional connectivity (Morris Chestnut plays Jordan's L.A. cop boyfriend), it is offset by overbearing indulgences in it (a fellow operator tearfully nods at Jordan's predicament) that feel false.

"The Call", an overall disaster, needed some 911 rescue help of its own, and stat.

Also with: Roma Maffia, Evie Thompson, Denise Dowse, David Otunga, Jennia Lamia, Ella Rae Peck, Justina Machado, Ross Gallo, Tara Platt.

"The Call" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for violence, disturbing content and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 39 minutes.

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