The Call ✮✮
Sorry, Wrong Number
by Glenn Lovell
Say you’ve been kidnapped and locked in the trunk of your assailant’s car. As luck would have it, you’ve got a cell phone in your back pocket. You dial 911 Emergency and, through frightened sobs, explain your dilemma.
What do you expect of the voice on the other end? That it’s officious and soothing, and it asks the right questions, such as “What’s your location?” and “Can you give me a description of your abductor?”
After rattling off the standard who/what/where queries, Halle Berry’s 911 operator in “The Call” gets around to those sillier questions, all in an effort to calm the PR (person reporting). Berry’s Jordan Turner is good at her job, but she’s lost her confidence and ability to focus because of an earlier distress call that came to a bad resolution (read violent death for the voice on the other end).
Jordan aims to do better this time and save poor Casey (Abigail Breslin), the girl in the trunk. She has Casey kick out a tail light, leave a trail of white paint on the highway … rifle through the pockets of her ever-less-fortunate trunk-mate.
Directed by indie talent Brad Anderson ‒ this is his first feature since the overlooked “Trans-Siberian” (2008) ‒ this claustrophobic little thriller starts out with promise but soon falls prey to idiotic plotting. It winds up as a lesser variation on “Silence of the Lambs” (like Buffalo Bill, the man behind the abductions has gender issues). How many times do we have to yell, “Hey, he’s not dead, stupid!”
At times, “The Call” feels like a promotional tool for LAPD’s 911 Communications. Anderson via Jordan gives us a tour of the facility and walks us through the do’s and don’ts when fielding a call. True to its nickname, “the hive” is abuzz with activity. Like air-traffic controllers, these operators are under migraine-inducing pressure and, from time to time, must decompress in the “Quiet Room.”
Unfortunately, for the sake of third-act thrills, most of what we learn about 911 operators is contradicted later on. It’s important to focus when you’re on the floor, we’re told. And yet Jordan spends much of her time gossiping and, during breaks, making out with her cop boyfriend (Morris Chestnut). We’re also told that operators can’t expect closure; they seldom learn about the fate of the caller. Here, however, the heroine, via her boyfriend, knows everything that’s going on in the field. If you’re going to establish ground rules, guys, abide by them.
Berry, sporting a Little Annie ‘do, is fine in what had to have been a tricky assignment. Talk about a sedentary role! For much of the film she’s tied to her workstation, staring at a pulsating computer screen, looking either very determined or very guilt-ridden. Breslin and Eklund are better as the blonde in the trunk and her muttering captor. Like some of the best villains, Eklund is scary because he never seems to be in control. Which means things escalate pretty quickly. Look for Michael Imperiolo of “The Sopranos” in a small but crucial role. All we can say is: You’re a real sport, Michael.
THE CALL ✮✮ With Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund. Directed by Brad Anderson; scripted by Richard D’Ovidio. 95 min. Rated R (for violence, gruesome makeup effects)