The Call (Frank’s Take) (film review).

Filmmaker Brad Anderson’s woefully generic psychological thriller ‘The Call’ is about as monotonous as a continual dial tone. The making of a legitimate tension-filled suspense piece was there for the taking: the stressful atmosphere of an emergency 911 call center and the desperate souls that call it in the wake of various imminent dangerous circumstances. Clearly, the movie’s blueprint warrants the high anxieties expected to serve as the basis for the fear-churning fodder. However, ‘The Call’ is nothing more than a mere disconnection of false jolts and jumps.

This emergency CALL definitely cannot be put on hold!
This emergency CALL definitely cannot be put on hold!

In ‘The Call’, Oscar-winner Halle Berry phones in her role (no pun intended) as a Los Angeles-based 911 operator named Jordan, who has had previous angst-ridden baggage dealing with the guilt of a murdered young woman due to her costly on-the-job error. Of course, this resulted in Jordan taking time off to recover from her professional faux pas while opting to stay in the background and train others in the art of dealing with crisis-oriented calls. There is no doubt that Jordan is traumatized by this past bad experience. Of course, the audience knows in advance that Jordan’s doubts and demons will be tested again.

Naturally, Jordan will get her chance for redemption when she is forced to tangle with a serial-killing psycho after he has captured a teen-age girl (Abigail Breslin in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’) from the local mall. The terrified youngster is trapped in the madman’s car trunk and places a call via cellphone to the startled Jordan in hopes that the 911 operator can save her from an uncertain deadly fate. Coincidentally, the kidnapping sicko is the same twisted individual who is responsible for the previous killing of the young woman that Jordan failed to protect.

So the movie trudges on as a harried Jordan tries to match wits with the teen-ager’s tormentor while figuring out a solution for keeping the kid safe and secure as the wacko aimlessly travels down the LA freeways armed with perverse intentions. Anderson (‘The Machinist’) and screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio incorporate the run-of-the-mill edgy devices (claustrophobic close-ups, jittery camera cuts, glassy-eyed facial expressions, etc.) that feel strained for this toothless thriller that never capitalises on its potential to be a fully percolating creepy caper. The formulaic build-up plods along and the manufactured depravity involved never really embodies the essence of the movie’s so-called sadistic free spirit.

There is an eager-minded effort to conceive ‘The Call’ as a vile and torturous treat but the film does not have the plausible or potent chops to carry off this ambitious yet treacherous task. Sadly, the banality outweighs the brutality as Anderson’s goose bump exposition never quite resonates with the challenging hostility it aims for so meagerly. As a crime thriller, ‘The Call’ is synthetic and choppy while arbitrarily borrowing bits from other cinematic influences that run the gamut from ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ to ‘Taken’.

Berry is not inspiring or intriguing in this pseudo spellbinding concoction of a poor man’s big screen ‘CSI’/’Criminal Minds’ rip-off. Berry’s transparent panic-stricken energy seems misplaced and labored in this flimsy frightfest. Unfortunately, ‘The Call’ will be understandably placed on the mantle along with her other mediocre misfires and that is a lot of company to keep for sure (‘B*A*P*S’, ‘Catwoman’ or ‘Gothika’ anybody?). Breslin’s jeopardised teen is not worthy of this talented young actress who deservedly garnered an Oscar nomination years ago for her terrific turn in the aforementioned ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. Basically, a no-name performer could have filled this ‘scream queen’ role in Breslin’s shoes.

 Supporting players Morris Chestnut (as Jordan’s cop boy-friend) and ‘The Sopranos’ former cast-member in Emmy-winning Michael Imperioli are completely wasted and underused in their respective roles. There is a particular twist and/or spoiler alert that cannot be revealed but let’s just say that it still cannot compensate for much of ‘The Call’s still-born material that plays like an annoying cellphone ringtone.

Suffice to say that ‘The Call’ should not have been made in the first place as it dials up a completely wrong number.

The Call (2013) Sony Pictures

1 hr. 35 mins.

Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund and Michael Imperioli

Directed by: Brad Anderson

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Drama/Suspense/Psychological Thriller

Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars).

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