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Rated 3.03 stars
by 347 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Call Center Heroes Deserve Better
by Frank Wilkins

The heroes of our nation’s 911 call centers, masquerading as the thankless worker bees who tirelessly navigate the public’s distress in order to save lives, finally get a movie to call their own. But unfortunately, rather than the superhero depiction they deserve, they get The Call, Hollywood formula at its most indulgent.

In all fairness, Brad Anderson nearly directs The Call around its script’s shortcomings to make it a rousing camp classic crowd-pleaser. I can see it now. Tween girls gathered around the TV throwing popcorn at the screen every time a character says something stupid or goes into a darkened crawlspace armed with only a cell phone and a flashlight. We can only hope they popped plenty of popcorn.

Halle Berry, sporting an obnoxiously distracting poodle-cut is Jordan, a veteran 911 dispatcher in the Los Angeles police department’s “hive,” the bustling nerve center with its thumb on the pulse of a restless city. We first meet her as she’s navigating a frantic female caller through the report of a prowler breaking into the girl’s home. But Jordan makes a crucial mistake which leads to the incident turning out very badly.

Six months later, Jordan is back in the hive, still devastated, but now working as a trainer teaching the job’s requisite calm and professionalism to a new batch of eager worker bees. Jordan’s lifeline to strangers isn’t over quite yet though, for she takes over the call of teenager Casey (Abigail Breslin) who was abducted from a mall, and is now on the line, calling from the trunk of a killer’s car.

Casey’s frenzied call plays out nearly in real time as the car speeds through the highways and surface streets of Los Angeles with a sadistic killer (Michael Eklund) at the wheel. We know he’s sadistic, because every time we see him, he’s frantically thumping the steering wheel, eyes squinted, face curled up in a menacing snarl. There’s nothing subtle from this point forward. Rather than via a tantalizingly deliberate reveal, the bad guy and his sinister intentions jolt the film into some other gear. We’re suddenly watching a slasher horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but as the scenario begins its dark sadistic swing into what it so badly wants to be the depths of Silence of the Lambs depravity, Anderson loses his way, and we, our interest.

But The Call is brought back to life each time the action switches to Jordan, the hive, and the brisk pacing that keeps things alive as the police desperately search for the car in a scenario surprisingly believable in today’s world. Then Jordan steps away from her desk and into the shoes of a police investigator. After watching The Call unfold, it’s safe to say that 911 dispatchers may be fairly well trained in police detective work but know nothing about the lurking dangers of underground dungeons. The only saving grace is that Anderson has so successfully allowed us to become invested in the story, we’re almost inclined to forgive the laughably dreadful closing one-liner. Almost.

The Call is beautifully shot as Anderson successfully captures the authentic vibe of the dimly lit call center, allowing it to quickly become a place of calming refuge where we loosen our grip of the armrests -- and the film is allowed to breathe. As expected, Berry is solid as the dispatcher struggling to gain her emotional bearings, and Breslin turns in a strong performance from the compressing confines of a car trunk with a camera inches from her face and nowhere to take a moment off.

The Call is a taut thriller that actually succeeds where so many of the genre falter -- in providing thrills. But someone, somewhere (more than likely a studio suit) made the poor decision to morph this thing from a female empowerment thriller into a cold-blooded revenge film. Poor decision.

(Released by Sony Pictures and rated “R” by MPAA.)

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