||Tracey Jackson apparently has a soft spot for “Bells Are Ringing,” the musical in which Judy Holliday starred on Broadway in 1956 and then in the 1960 movie version, since she’s silently adopted its plot line for this romantic comedy. Holliday played a telephone answering service operator who became involved with her customers (adopting different guises for each of them); in particular she inserted herself directly in the life of a handsome composer, who fell in love with her without knowing that she was the “granny” at the other end of his line.
In this updated, songless reboot, which is being given a token theatrical release (appropriately enough by MGM, which also made “Bells” a half-century ago), Shriya Saran plays Priya Sethi, a lovely Indian who works in the Mumbai call center of an American bank and pretends to be Jennifer David of San Francisco when dealing with her American customers. When she gets in touch with Granger Woodruff (Jesse Metcalfe), an ambitious young ad exec, about unauthorized charges on his credit card, the two strike up a friendly conversation, and before long he invites her to meet him during a trip he’s planning to the Bay Area to make an important presentation to hotel magnate Kit Hawksin (Larry Miller). Unhappy about the marriage her father (Anupam Kher) has arranged for her, Priya decides to fly to America to meet this dreamboat, not knowing that he too is involved in a rocky relationship, with ambitious businesswoman Emory Banks (Sara Foster). She intends to pose as Jennifer, but inevitably they instead bump into one another “cute” in the hotel lobby and Granger finds himself falling for Priya in her own right without knowing that she’s “Jennifer” at all, especially after the quirky Hawksin takes a shine to her.
From this point the script takes all the predictable turns. The couple’s obviously pre-determined final linkup is threatened not only by the inevitable revelation that Priya is actually Jennifer and her suspicion that Granger is interested in her as a way of cultivating Hawksin, but also by the arrivals of both an oversexed Emory and Priya’s apoplectic dad at the most inopportune moments. And, of course, both leads are supplied with comic sidekicks, with Granger’s partner Charlie (Austin Basis) taking the lead in that department.
“The Other End of the Line” has some funny bits—there’s a throwaway comment about New Jersey in the Mumbai center that’s hilarious, and Miller’s portrait of a steamroller entrepreneur is maniacally funny. The leads are ingratiating, too: both Saran and Metcalfe (who’s probably best known as the studly young gardener on the first season of “Desperate Housewives”) have considerable charm. But, just like supporting players Kher and Basis, they’re both encouraged to push too hard by director James Dodson, who doesn’t demonstrate much finesse or sense of pacing. Along with his cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian and editors Ethan Maniquis and Jim Mankiej, he’s also much too enamoured of speeded-up montages to establish locations (if these were shortened or eliminated, it might have chopped ten minutes off the excessive 106-minute running-time). The overall production, while colorful, comes off as less slick than it might be. And the choice of pop tunes that comment on the action is crushingly obvious—somebody should really have balked at the inclusion of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Even with all its flaws, the movie is still superior to a lot of the bigger-budgeted, starrier-cast romantic comedies that come out of Hollywood—just think of any of the disastrous ones starring MatthewMcConaughey. But it’s just too lightweight and rough around the edges to amount to anything more than a harmless time-waster of cable TV quality.