An extremely unsavory thriller that’s like a grosser, grislier (and dumber) episode of “CSI” or “Criminal Minds,” “The Call” embarrasses Halley Berry not only by saddling her with a terribly unflattering Harpo Marx hairdo but by giving her a poorly conceived role as a guilt-ridden 911 operator who turns sleuth herself to save a kidnapped girl, and ultimately becomes a female revenge fantasy heroine.
The first reel shows Berry trying to advise a girl who’s house is being invaded by an intruder about successfully hiding from him until the cops—who throughout the movie prove rather dull bulbs (and slow to respond to boot)—arrive. Unfortunately, she makes a blunder during the call, pressing the redial button when the girl loses contact, and thereby revealing her whereabouts to the stalker. The kid is found murdered and buried not long afterward.
Six months later, Jordan, as Berry’s called, is no longer taking calls but instructing incoming operators. But when a rookie gets a call from Casey (Abigail Breslin), who’s been abducted from a mall parking lot and is locked in the trunk of a car speeding down the freeway, Jordan reluctantly takes over the console, trying to calm the teen and giving her pointers about how to catch the attention of other drivers; ultimately it’s of no use. A couple of outsiders do attempt to help—an unlucky driver (Michael Imperioli) and an equally unlucky gas station attendant—but to no avail. And ultimately poor Casey winds up in the villain’s underground lair (these goofballs always have elaborate lairs, you know), where’s she’s bound, stripped to her scanty undergarments and threatened with torture by medical instrument.
Fortunately Jordan has by now not only divined that the kidnapper (Michael Eklund) is the same fellow who killed the girl six months earlier, but—while all the cops, including Jordan’s boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) are coming up empty—has tracked the guy and his new victim down and takes on the man herself. The last reel, riddled with clichés (the villain naturally recovers after being clobbered, not once but twice!) and nastiness, closes with a twist that’s meant to be emotionally satisfying but comes off as the cheapest sort of pandering to the audience’s darker impulses.
Richard D’Ovidio’s script has the germ of an idea, but it’s very poorly worked out. An expository sequence that explains the workings of the 911 system by having a bunch of rookie operators ask the most obvious questions as they’re herded around the “Hive,” as it’s called, is inane. Both abductions are clumsily staged—the second, in daylight, is observed by nobody, and on the occasions when the kidnapper is stopped and vulnerable, only one person is around to confront him (though we later hear of otherwise unseen “witnesses”). The police are portrayed as continuously inept, and in the final face-off not only does Jordan’s cell phone predictably show “no service” but she then drops it to make it inaccessible. Then there’s the psychological explanation that’s suggested for the kidnapper’s actions—a rationale so simultaneously silly and ugly that it might cause both a shudder of revulsion and laughter.
Berry tries to invest the intrepid Nancy Drew-style operator with some real emotion, but winds up looking ridiculous, especially in the awful last reel. Breslin, so memorable in “Little Miss Sunshine,” is reduced to playing the screaming, whimpering victim, and Chestnut is wasted. Eklund goes way overboard as the wacked-out villain in a scenery-chewing turn indicative of the ham-fisted direction of Brad Anderson, who in the past showed real talent and subtlety in “The Machinist” and “Transsiberian.” But technically the film is perfectly adequate, with solid cinematography from Thomas Yatsko, though John Debney’s score is pretty generic.
“The Call” is the second picture in as many weeks to be produced in association with WWE Studios, the moviemaking arm of Vince McMahon’s wrestling empire. Like the first, “Dead Man Down,” it features a grappler, here David Otunga, in a supporting role. It’s also similar in that it goes down for the count.