Director: Brad Anderson
Stars: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin
3 (out of 5) Globes
Modest, if not basement-level, expectations can do one a world of good, and expectations don’t get more modest than a mid-level thriller starring Halle Berry and directed by almost-auteur Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”). And like the extremely similar “Cellular” — whose overqualified cast included William H. Macy and Oscar winner Kim Basinger — it’s a surprisingly almost rigorous glorified B-picture that repeatedly finds ways to extend an anemic premise to a perfectly acceptable short length.
Berry plays a rock star 911 operator introduced messing up a distress call, resulting in a young girl kidnapped and murdered. Her confidence shaken, she winds up on the phone with a similar situation (coincidence?), this time with Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslin. Breslin has been chloroformed and stuck in a trunk. Berry hatches schemes — some, to put it lightly, quite questionable — to locate the car, as it apparently takes more than the length of a relatively short movie to trace the prepaid phone with which she’s conveniently stuck.
Berry, of course, is an Oscar winner, and like many pretty actresses who win major acting trophies — like Basinger, actually — she tends to overemote as if to prove her mettle. It’s weird, then, to see her relaxed, for once, as a phone jockey, fielding calls with a cucumber cool that only sporadically spills over into showboaty hyperventilating. This is probably Berry’s best, or at least most assured performance — in a movie called “The Call,” about a telephone conversation, directed by someone whose previous movie was the laughable “Vanishing on 7th Street.” That’s not saying much, frankly, but when praise is due, that’s what you get.
Anderson isn’t a great director; he overuses “intensifying” sound effects to make up for obvious deficiencies. But he doesn’t get in the way of a script that finds ways both novel and amusingly ridiculous to keep the plot going, even when it looks (as it repeatedly does) to be on the verge of premature resolution. It’s a cheap screenwriter’s trick to have the plot foiled at times by dumb civilians — including Michael Imperioli as one seriously thoughtless richie — but it exploits the idea that, you know, people can be kind of stupid. The baddie’s endgame is far weirder than necessary, and he gives the Enya-rockin’ villain of the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” remake a run for his money by chillaxing to Taco’s cover of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Of course, one still ought to dial down expectations. Go into “The Call” demanding a covert masterpiece would be foolish.