For about two-thirds of its lean runtime, The Call had me. I was swept up in the tension of the story of an abducted girl (Abigail Breslin) whose guardian angel comes in the form of 911 emergency operator (Halle Berry, with the ugliest hairstyle outside of the 80′s), who tries to help keep her calm and continuously come up with ways to assist the police who are out searching for her, even as the kidnapper becomes more panicked and erratic in his behavior. It’s a cat and mouse game, a well worn but efficient film trope, and for the first hour or so it works well, thanks to a script that manages to eke out some small surprises and a cast that sells the hell out of their roles. I was happy to be along for the ride – until a spectacularly ludicrous final act that manages to squander any goodwill built up until that point in a matter of seconds. The film flatlines so quickly I felt like I had whiplash.
Up until that moment, the film actually has a fair amount going for it. Halle Berry is Jordan, a 911 operator who receives a call from a young girl because of an intruder in her home. Before he kidnaps the girl, he briefly speaks to Jordan before disconnecting the call. The girl is found murdered days later. Six months later, Jordan is no longer an active operator, instead training new recruits. She unwittingly becomes involved in the 911 call of another girl who was abducted from a mall and shoved into the trunk of a car – of the very same man who Jordan heard on the phone six months prior.
Halle Berry is convincing as Jordan (at least until that final act), showing just how stressful this job can be for a person, the pain and uncertainty of not knowing what happens when the line goes dead, and whether you could have changed the outcome. Michael Eklund is truly terrifying as the kidnapper, depicting a man who shows a placidly calm face and good-old-boy charm on the surface, but is a seething mass of rage, tics, and paranoia underneath. As the stakes are raised along the course of the film and his plan starts to crumble around him, you genuinely don’t know what he’ll do to ensure that he doesn’t get caught, and the results can at times be electrifying.
This movie belongs to Abigail Breslin, who deftly moves from child actor to full-fledged actress here. As Casey Wilson, the kidnapped girl at the center of the film, this movie hinges on her performance, and Breslin gives it her all. She allows the audience to feel the sheer terror of someone who is petrified that these are her final moments alive, and it can be truly difficult to watch at times. A moment in which she asks to be able to leave a few words on the recorded 911 conversation for her mother in the event she isn’t recovered alive was gut-wrenching.
And then there is that final twenty minutes. This film goes off the rails so hard that the final shot elicited an audible, unison groan from the audience due to the moment’s sheer ridiculousness (and abrupt smash cut to the credits). What was at times a smart if simple thriller veers into B movie territory, in which characters act stupid and out of character so screenwriters can maneuver what they must have thought would be an epic final confrontation. This is the sort of final act that has people strip down to their tank tops so you can see how bad-ass they are, and abandon common sense so completely that you’re almost rooting for the villain to put them down. It was depressing to witness such a 180 degree turnaround from what had come before it.
If you feel the need to answer The Call this weekend, do so knowing that you are both in for a thriller and a comedy – the first intentional, the other most definitely not what the filmmakers had in mind. Otherwise, let this one go to voicemail.
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Michael Eklund, Morris Chestnut, David Otunga, Michael Imperioli
Bottom Line: If you’re in the mood for a schizophrenic film experience, see it in theaters. Otherwise, save it for cable or Netflix.
Who Would Like It: Lifetime movie fans, people who don’t mind having the rug pulled out from under them.