Monday, March 18, 2013

Why You Gotta Have Those Last Ten Minutes, The Call?

Yeah, I'm going to talk a bit about how The Call goes belly-up at the end, but that'll be down at the bottom.

So... It's weird that WWE Films has, in two consecutive weeks, given us two thrillers directed by noteworthy directors starring pretty good actresses (last week's entry being Dead Man Down, with Niels Arden Oplev re-uniting with Noomi Rapace)? I'm not complaining - The Call was pretty darn good, and Dead Man Down had its moments - but that doesn't necessarily seem to serve their brand. Someone says "WWE Films", and I think basic direct-to-video action movies starring their wrestling talent.

A week later, I couldn't tell you who Stu Bennett (the WWE's "Wade Barrett") played in Dead Man Down; I'm guessing he was one of the goons. Here, David Otunga is the obligatory WWE Superstar (are they still called that?), and I liked the guy for the moments he's on screen. He makes for one of the more interesting credits I've seen in a movie lately, that "WWE, the WWE logo, and David Otunga are trademarks of World Wrestling Entertainment". Dude, you were born with that name - why let Vince McMahon own it?

Anyway, I've got issues with the end of this one, so after the eFilmCritic excerpt, we'll get back to them.

The Call

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 March 2013 in Regal Fenway #10 (first-run, DCP)

The Call is a B-movie with A-movie talent, and it's a surprisingly good one for a longer time than one might expect (director Brad Anderson's obituary will probably feature some variation of that phrase). It's got an ending that strongly favors going for a visceral reaction over making sense, which was frustrating to me but which some may see as a positive.

Six months ago, Los Angeles 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) took a call from a teenage girl in the middle of a home invasion, only to see it end as badly as it possibly can. Now, still shaken by the experience, she's training recruits rather than manning phones herself when kidnapping victim Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) calls from the trunk of a car, but she winds up taking point in the efforts to track and rescue Casey, with her patrol-officer boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) in hot pursuit of the kidnapper (Michael Eklund).

For most of the movie, the plot isn't fancy or particularly elaborate - you've got Jordan in the 911 control center ("The Hive") and Casey in the trunk of a car, circumstances preventing the police from locating the cell phone she's using exactly, and both of them scared but having to use their wits to find a way out of the mess. Anderson and screenwriter Richard D'Ovidio keep things easy to follow without treating the audience like idiots - here's a reason why the kidnapper didn't take the phone Casey uses, this shot ensures you remember something else ten or fifteen minutes later. The plot doesn't twist so much as it see-saws, which is probably the right call.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


So, like I said in the EFC review, I kind of got the feeling that there was a studio note or reshoots involved, and if so, I suspect it wasn't really an unreasonable one: Get Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin on-screen together, and let them be the ones who actually take the villain out. There's a line early on from another 911 dispatcher about how the worst part of their job is not knowing how things end, and afterward I found myself wondering which is the best way to go back to that - by letting Chestnut's character rescue Casey and emphasizing the teamwork aspect, or letting Jordan actually close it out this time. I was kind of hoping for the former, if only because the cops on scene were being active. What they did is defensible, though.

What's not is how they go about it. This isn't a smart movie, per se, but it's one where everyone is pretty capable; even when Jordan or Casey does something that sets them back, it's a spur-of-the-moment reaction. At the end, though, we're asked to believe that the cops don't search the whole property, and then when Jordan finds the secret underground lair, the idea that she can't call this in seems pretty unlikely - after all, to get her to that point, there would have to be cell reception; apparently not at the bottom of a ten-foot hole, though, and Jordan couldn't climb back up the ladder and call her boyfriend.

Then, once down there, things get ugly. Now, there's been violence in the movie up until then, and some pretty nasty kills (poor Michael Imperioli, basically on the receiving end twice), but not a whole lot of blood and guts; Anderson lets us imagine the worst. In the lair, though, there's blonde scalps, cutting into a victim's head, implications of incest. I figured that what came before was "clean" thrills, not in a moralistic way, but just not messy - not pushing suffering.

(I also kind of want to see the beginning again, to see whether the wide shots of the first girl's body were scalped. I don't think she was - the blonde hair was what allowed us to identify the otherwise pixilated body. Plus, where the heck did the bad guy put the car?)

Plus, the very end left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't really like the idea that the heroines are just leaving the bad guy to die. It's believable, but I kind of like my heroes heroic, and it's an awfully quick shift to them being vicious and vengeful - even if they're just doing it so that he feels the same sort of fear that Casey did, that's really late to introduce that theme.


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