Halle Berry has a bad hair day in The Call.
THE CALL (Brad Anderson). 95 minutes. Opens Friday (March 15). See listings. Rating: NN
A ticking-clock thriller about a 911 operator trying to find an abducted teenager who's called her from the trunk of a moving car, The Call is basically a feature-length episode of Criminal Minds, with all the lurid sadism, frantic hysteria and paper-thin characterizations you'd expect from a TV procedural.
The plot is just a flipped version of Cellular, with the hostage in motion and the hero on the other end of the phone stuck in a single location. And for the first half, it works pretty well, as Halle Berry's traumatized but stalwart phone jockey finds ingenious ways to help Abigail Breslin's terrified teen get noticed and steer the police to her aid.
But screenwriter Richard D'Ovidio (Exit Wounds, Thirteen Ghosts) runs out of ideas around the 50-minute mark, shifting The Call into more conventional territory with the teen tied down and begging for death in her captor's grimy lair while the operator tries her best to figure out where said lair might be. That's when I remembered what the WWE Studios logo really signifies - nasty, exploitative "entertainment" like The Condemned and those Marine movies.
I'm not sure how Brad Anderson got snarled up with the WWE yahoos, but he's too smart for them, and its shows in his directorial choices. He can't do much about the script, but he can play up certain elements - like making the grotty stuff too grotty for a project that's supposed to be a slick mainstream thriller, as though he's trying to call attention to the Saw-level aesthetic that's crept into American procedurals over the last decade, and styling Berry as a doppelganger for Jasika Nicole, with whom Anderson worked on Fringe. (And come to think of it, Nicole - who's much better at projecting vulnerability than the naturally flinty Berry - would have been a far better choice for the part.)
The script is still the script, though, and there's not much Anderson can do to make its second half interesting; by the time he gets to the ludicrous, tacked-on ending, it's as though he's checked out entirely.
And he's done no favours to Michael Eklund by directing him to play the movie's bargain-basement villain as a sweaty, rat-faced mouth breather so obviously deranged that the audience at my preview screening started giggling at his pop-eyed dementia.
But maybe that's how they cope with Criminal Minds, too.