MARCH 16, 2013
If The Call was a better movie, it wouldn't be fit for Horror Movie A Day (indeed, I went in not knowing if it would count, leaning more toward "No" based on the trailers). I'd tweet to everyone to go see a pretty decent thriller from the director of Session 9, go home, load up some DTV killer scarecrow movie or whatever, and that'd be that. But the entire 3rd act is a hodgepodge of moments from Silence of the Lambs, Saw, and even goddamn Captivity, so along with the random killings along the way, this sadly becomes a serial killer thriller that would fit comfortably with a bunch of others I've reviewed.
Because when it's NOT being a horror movie and earning its unnecessary R rating (more on that later), it's a fine thriller in the Cellular vein, with Halle Berry as a 911 dispatcher who is trying to keep a kidnapped girl (Abigail Breslin) calm while trying to determine her location as her attacker drives along the freeways of Los Angeles. Berry's ideas are pretty intelligent - kicking out the taillight and waving, hoping another person will call 911 and report it (and the actual freeway), dripping a (conveniently placed) can of paint out the light's hole to leave a trail, etc. Obviously we know none of this stuff will work or else the movie would be over, but Brad Anderson, if nothing else, knows how to wring tension out of very little, and it becomes the rare movie that's 2nd act is the strongest (there's a rather long setup to Breslin being kidnapped; if you've seen the spoiler-ific trailer, you know the drill).
And before I lay into the 3rd act, I should stress that I was fine with the first 20 minutes or so, with Berry screwing up another call and inadvertently getting the girl killed, which comes after a lot of stuff to show how she's an old pro at her job (She knows obscure codes off the top of her head! She has a recurring caller!), and then after the girl is killed we have to deal with generic "rock bottom" nonsense - pills, taking the 911 equivalent of a desk job, etc. It's funny that I happened to have my Shocker T-shirt on, as it's the same problem that hurts that movie for some folks - it takes a while to get to the part that the movie is actually about, because so many pieces have to be in place first. But it wasn't interminable; the scenes with the first girl were pretty good nail-biters, and there are some darkly funny 911 calls to enjoy ("Some guys are breaking into my neighbors'... I have a shotgun, want me to take care of them?"). One could levy the same complaint at Speed - GET TO THE BUS! - and that turned out OK (whereas Shocker is an acquired taste - I've come to accept it), so I was willing to be patient.
But alas, act 3 (SPOILERS AHEAD!). The trunk stuff ends, and our killer (Michael Eklund from the interminable The Divide) has brought Breslin to a generic horror movie dungeon, complete with filthy walls and an accompanying green/brown tint to everything. It's here we finally get some glimpses as to what his motive is, but that's all there is: glimpses. If I'm understanding correctly (SPOILERS, again), his beloved older sister died of cancer and lost her beautiful blond hair in the process, so now he's kidnapping blond girls and scalping them, but then what? If he's killing them all, where are the bodies? Why does he need so many? At one point Breslin sees something we do not, and I was hoping it would build to a twist that he was either re-building his his sister out of similar bodied girls, or that the sister was actually alive and he was trying to find her a perfect hair replacement, and both of which would have been far more satisfying reveals than what it actually is (a bloodied bed - who cares? We already know he's a murderer).
Oh, and then it has an epilogue worse than the one in Last House on the Left remake. Almost as if to punish the audience for putting up with the stupid final act, they twist the knife a little more. And then the credits cut in without a real epilogue that offers any closure about the other girls or whatever. The Call may be the first movie where I wish it had a scene of the villain explaining everything before being merely shot to death, as it would be a vast improvement over what we actually get here.
Now the funny thing about this is that it seems tacked on, but totally fits the movie's seemingly PG-13 vibe. The kill scenes are largely off-screen and loaded with freezeframes, which seem to almost be signaling a more conservative audience to look away before it resumes and shows something nasty, which it never actually does. And there's an odd subplot about how Breslin's character doesn't like to swear, so of course at some point she's going to scream MOTHER FUCKER! at her captor, though when it does it's an afterthought that doesn't register at all. It's almost as if the "no swearing" thing was just a throwaway explanation for the lack of harsh language, and the one allotted use of an F bomb in a PG-13 would be that big moment where she finally learns to swear. But alas, it goes nowhere, and her friend drops 1-2 anyway, and the movie got an R rating for " violence, disturbing content and some language", none of which is false but could describe any number of PG-13 thrillers as well. It's like they got the R when a PG-13 was in mind and didn't feel like contesting it or going back to add stuff to justify it.
Speaking of things that amused me, I picked a perfect venue to see the film: the AMC located adjacent to the Burbank Town Center mall (which has another AMC inside of it), as the mall was the shooting location for where Breslin's character is prior to being kidnapped. Some laughter and "whoa!" erupted from the crowd when it first appeared, followed by a LOT of laughing when the mall was described as "Fashion Plaza" and located downtown. Obviously even 20 miles away or so this wouldn't have any reaction whatsoever, let alone throughout the rest of the world, so it was a pretty great little crowd moment (as was the equally loud laughter when Berry idiotically drops her cell phone, which was less amusingly followed by someone in the crowd's cell going off). Some of the other geographical details were way off, but again no one will notice - however I wonder if anyone else was puzzled by the fact that we see the first girl's address on two different computer screens (other calls) before she actually calls and gives it aloud. And what LA station would be playing Taco's "Putting on the Ritz"?
Basically, it has the same problem a lot of high concept thrillers have, in that the act almost always has to be dropped for the climax, and it's never as interesting as what came before. Speed loses the bus, Cellular loses the phone, etc - but in The Call's case, they trade what's actually working better than it should be for dumb torture horror staples that barely work in actual torture horror movies, undoing just about all of its goodwill (whereas the others just sort of deflate a bit but are still good). The trailer pretty much shows every beat of the movie except for things that are mind-numbingly stupid, and it's a shame to see the guy who made Session 9 doing something so generic and silly. In short, it's a movie that would be fine in August when you just want something to look at when it's too hot to be outside and the theater offers better AC than your own home, but it's March. Just go outside.
What say you?
P.S. No, I have no idea why this is a WWE movie. There were no wrestlers in it or even any tough guys - just Eklund and Morris Chestnut, who disappears from the movie at one point. UPDATE - I have since learned that Chestnut's partner - a role so tiny I actually forgot it existed when writing the review a few hours later - is a wrestler. Still, they used to give them the starring roles (Marine, Condemned, etc) and now they get bit parts that could have been played by the producer's cousin.