A lot of critical attention targeting The Call will focus on yet another questionable decision made by Halle Berry when it comes to her post-Oscar career (an award she won 11 years ago by the way). Fair, though tiresome. Instead, The Call should be looked at as another film that actually could have been quite decent had the storytelling decisions not opened up the entire film to a series of nitpicks, the ending being the worst offender.
The story is ridiculous, yes. Jordan Turner (Berry), a veteran 911 operator is so disturbed by a small mistake she made during a call, which resulted in the kidnapping and subsequent death of the young girl on the other end of the line, she has decided to step away from the phones and now trains the new recruits. Okay, nothing too silly there, but it’s early…
Unfortunately, she’s not a very good trainer as we reach the arbitrary “Six months later” mark films love to employ. Now, the same creep is up to his same old antics. Another young blonde (Abigail Breslin) has been kidnapped and managed to get through to 911. Jordan stands by with a group of new recruits behind her when the operator taking the call freaks out. It’s time for Jordan to step in.
The young girl, her name is Casey, has been thrown into the trunk of a car and her disposable TracFone phone doesn’t have a GPS signal they can track. Of course it doesn’t! After all, they dropped the “k” for a reason. The wily Jordan goes through every trick in the book to help the police track the killer, but when all else fails, she must venture out on her own to solve the crime.
So there it is, despite the continued insistence a 911 operator should never make promises or get emotionally invested you better believe all rules will be broken here. Thing is, for as silly as it all seems, director Brad Anderson does a great job keeping tension high with plot development and limited stupidity in the early going. Cinematographer Tom Yatsko aids the intensity with dramatic, almost disturbing close-ups as Casey struggles to move around her cramped confines. Alternatively, John Debney provides an overweight score that simply begins to get in the way as the film wears on.
Beyond the score, the issues begin to compound as the end draws near. While all films have issues, whether it’s drawing on cliches, plot holes or narrative decisions that sacrifice reality and intelligence for the sake of making the story “work”, in this case you’re left too often asking the likes of, “Why would they do that?” “Where are the other police?” “Where is the helicopter?” “Would they not have a K-9 unit?” and so on, and that’s all before Jordan goes on her own sleuthing mission and you begin yelling “Hit him again!” and “Close the door!” Then, the inevitable “No Signal” appears on her cell phone. It’s this kind of lazy storytelling that can sink an entire production.
Audiences will easily forgive plot holes and even the stupidity of the “No Signal” trope if you keep them otherwise occupied, but in The Call instances such as this begin to pile-up, one on top of another, to the point my entire audience laughed out loud at the “No Signal” scene rather than the minor rumble such a scene would normally cause.
The finale is the film’s worst offender, wrought with cliched attempts at tension and instances where you’ll want to yell at the screen as characters make the same bad decisions characters have been making in films for years.
There are a few solid pay-off moments in these latter minutes, but these pay-offs could have been reached just as easily by cutting out the crap meant to ramp up the tension. A girl is kidnapped and the threat of her death is clear, what more tension do we need? Narrow escapes are worthless at this point, especially if characters make stupid decisions that get them into trouble.
Too much stupidity from a character will remind the audience they are watching a movie and remove the human connection that has otherwise been created, at that point you begin to no longer care about their well-being and will likely be more satisfied in their demise than their survival… which is to say be prepared to be disappointed, yet again.
It would have been nice to say this film offers up a surprising dose of R-rated thrills, and the potential is there, but in the end it devolves into yet another third-rate thriller destined for the bargain bin and forgotten in a matter of days.