Cinema Review: The Call

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DIR: Brad Anderson  WRI: Richard D’Ovidio   • PRO: Bradley Gallo, Jeffrey Graup, Michael A. Helfant, Michael Luisi, Robert Stein • DOP: Tom Yatsko • ED: Avi Youabian • DES: Franco-Giacomo Carbone • Cast: Halle Berry, Evie Thompson, Abigail Breslin

In The Call Halle Berry stars as Jordon, a 911 operator who faces almost the exact situation that Liam Neeson faced in the now famous kidnapping scene from Taken. However, lacking both the authoritative tone of voice and the ‘particular set of skills’ of Mr Neeson, the girl is kidnapped and never to be heard from again. Months later, having taken a more backseat job within the LAPD due to the trauma of that event, Jordon is pulled back into the action of answering phones when another girl (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped. Through one of the many, many plot contrivances that make up the backbone of the film, the girl has a cell phone and is calling from the trunk of the kidnapper’s car.

The race is on for the LAPD to try and find the girl and for Jordon to find personal solace by not letting this killer get away. But could it be the same killer from before? As the trailer helpfully gives away, yes, yes it is. Though to be perfectly honest, if anyone had serious doubts that it wasn’t the same killer then they’ve clearly missed every kidnap/serial-killer film and TV plot over the last three decades.

Sarcasm aside there’s nothing inherently wrong with The Call. It is just so by-the-numbers and derivative that it’s truly astonishing that it’s a heavily-marketed star-vehicle and not a straight-to-DVD production or even just the script for an episode of any number of crime series currently airing on television. To director Brad Anderson’s credit, he does his best to visually elevate proceedings above their painfully televisual material through heavy use of helicopter shots on the one hand and leering, shaky-cam close-ups on the other. This goes some way toward making the film at least look like it belongs on a cinema screen even if the rest of the film screams TV.

The only truly positive thing to say about the film is that the central gimmick is milked for all it’s worth and proves consistently fun, clever and inventive. Casey (Breslin) is trapped in the trunk of the killer’s car talking to Jordon on a plot-device phone that can’t be tracked by GPS so together they must employ increasingly silly methods to attempt to find the car. This makes up about two thirds of the overall running time and surprisingly never gets boring thanks to how increasingly clever (and ridiculous) the methods continue to get. It’s just a pity that the trailer gives away almost all of it not to mention neatly summarising about eighty minutes worth of the plot of this ninety-minute film.

This film is clearly being aimed at the more casual movie-going audience who might not have seen too many films within this genre but even with that intention, the film is shockingly lazy in its plot and characters. The most obvious example of this being the serial killer himself (Michael Eklund) who’s equal parts Buffalo Bill, the Trinity Killer from Dexter and (strangest of all) Crispin Glover’s character from the Charlie’s Angels movies. He embodies every single generic serial-killer trope you could imagine. Creepy basement lair? Check. Past tragedy involving family member who the killer was just a bit too close to? Check. Arbitrary lower-class background (despite now being the epitome of middle-class)? Check. Penchant for playing chirpy pop music while torturing victim? Check. Has his own version of “Mother”? Check and mate.

Despite this, this is where the film truly shines. Albeit unintentionally. Eklund’s performance as the killer is borderline comedic. His childlike tantrums at every turn as the kidnapping keeps going wrong make his scenes seem like they’re from a slapstick black comedy about an incompetent serial killer. If you’ve seen The Three Murderers skit from South Park, this feels broadly similar. On top of this the Crispin Glover similarity is impossible to shake once the killer’s trophy of choice is revealed. In fact the last twenty minutes that take place in the killer’s lair, which are traditionally the creepy scenes in a film like this, were met with outright belly-laughs in the screening I attended. If the scenes of Halle Berry were reduced and a slightly different score was used, this film could be quite hilarious as an almost Airplane!-lite parody of the genre.

And then, in the final two minutes of the film, the plot takes an utterly out-of-nowhere turn which brings the film strangely full-circle back to being comparable to Taken (except with added tank-tops for no reason). Combine this with the unintentional humour of the villain, the awkward and ham-fisted plotting and some oddly surreal moments (such as the aforementioned tank-tops and a scene in which the American flag literally saves the day) and it’s difficult to recommend this film as the pulse-pounding, tense, thrill-ride it’s being marketed as. However, as an unintentional comedy it certainly has its moments and a surprisingly high number of them at that.

Since reviews of this film have shown a fondness for phone and call-based puns in their summative comments, I’ll be edgy and go for an automotive one. So in conclusion, The Call: your mileage may vary.

I’m here all week.

Richard Drumm

15A (See IFCO for details)

94 mins
The Call is released on 20th September 2013

The Call – Official Website

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