Review: ‘The Call’ (an empowerment film with a case of sequelitis)

After a solid, edge-of-your-seat beginning, the ending reeks either of studio interference or amateur writing.

Jordan (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator at “the hive,” a nickname given to the Los Angeles police dispatch facility that coordinates all emergency services for the area. When a teenager calls in to report an attempted break-in, Jordan does her best to help the young woman evade the assailant while police are on route. When the connection is lost at a critical moment, her return call results in the teen’s death. Six months later, Jordan has left the phones to teach new hires the ropes. An act of fate pits Jordan not only against her fears of making another fatal mistake but against the same murderer as well.

There’s nothing wrong with a great crime thriller any more than with a great revenge flick, but problems can arise when you blend the two. The Call puts you in the passenger seat of a high-pressure job: taking emergency calls, collecting data, coordinating services, and keeping the caller calm. When the calls go from “my cat’s in a tree” and “where are my keys?” to actual emergencies, the shift in urgency is palatable and real. It’s what happens in the third act that derails the film almost to the point of criminal neglect, and the first two acts really deserved a better ending.

“The hive” sounds a bit too good to be true. The state-of-the-art call center screams Last Action Hero high-tech, and even besides the fact that it’s too clean, too organized, and too spacious, the 911 dispatch center of LA would never, ever look conveniently empty while our hero secretly works off the clock (because criminals and emergencies never happen during certain times of day). The entire setting has an NCIS MTAC vibe, as if emergencies don’t stand a chance against a television show set. Also, it’s also highly unlikely that the local beat cops (read: non-operators) would have access to a building so supposedly secure (because all cops are honest and are allowed to be everywhere).

All fun aside, this isn’t the issue. It’s when the cops come up empty and our heroine inexplicably sets out on her own, and mistakes upon mistakes pile up. If it was supposed to be nail-biting, it’s also just as frustrating, like screaming at the screen “what the hell?!” frustrating. When the story concludes, the audience will understand the real reason the character made these choices before making the Holy Mother of God of all movie mistakes purely for sequel purposes. While it’s meant to be empowering, it comes off as both out of character and foolish.

The acting was fine and the production looks good; it’s just a poor ending to an interesting premise. There were plenty of ways the filmmakers could have fixed this, but it seems the intent of whomever wrote the script or had final cut that this is the way it was meant to go. While it’s one thing to suggest that it’s all about victims taking back power, the final resolution is insultingly foolhardy. Seriously, guys, the only thing worse than pulling the final punch of a crime thriller crossing over into a revenge flick would have been showing the script cover to The Call 2: Aftercall at the end the credits.

(a two skull recommendation out of four)


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