If not for a few sizable structural problems, "The Call" very easily could have been a movie worth seeing. You know, the sort of thriller that wasn't completely ridiculous, an effort in the vein of "Seven" or "The Silence of the Lambs," an experience worthy of accolades. The tension was there, the actors were willing, and the stage was set for a well-executed suspense film. Sadly, "The Call" is not that, instead coming off as a very slick-looking exercise in getting an audience to disconnect from the content. Near the end people will laugh at the moments of peril that should be immersing them in terror.
Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator in Los Angeles, her workplace a tension-filled "hive" that is considered the brain of first responders all across the city. The work environment, it must be noted, looks exceptionally cool, a cross between NASA mission control and a tech start-up, screens and blinking status lights signifying that work of import is being handled 24/7. Jordan fields a few calls, some serious, some silly, and we're introduced to the fast-paced and immensely stressful world of a 911 dispatcher. The opening scenes are especially strong, mostly because this is a public service that almost never gets mentioned, but also due to the gambler's mentality of each call. The next interaction could be a petty squabble, or alternatively a life-threatening crisis requiring immediate intervention. Within a few minutes Jordan gets a call of the terrible variety, a home invasion replete with screams and violence, and from there on out "The Call" becomes completely frenetic.
Six months later, our favorite 911 operator finds herself voluntarily out of active duty and in a training role. She's walking new recruits through the call center when another terrifying call comes in. All of her skills will now be put to the test, or so "The Call" would have you believe. Major problems begin presenting themselves, and this is the spot where "The Call" consciously decides to slowly drown itself in the tub. The very first sticking point is the massively coincidental nature of Jordan's involvement in the call itself. Even if you're willing to give the film some slack, the wave of logic bombs this portends will soon cause a viewer to question the entire enterprise.
Plot-wise, the second major action beat of "The Call" involves a massive police response, helicopters, multiple units assigned, an amber alert - but all of it is orchestrated by … well, actually nothing. At the beginning of the call no one knows where Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) is, which way she's headed, or has any clues which would even guide them in a general direction. And yet, everyone speeds around like they have bees in their pants. While one might concede that police action isn't always focused, there very easily could have been a line of dialogue that went something to the effect of "She could be anywhere with this 15 mile corridor, tell all officers to keep a look out for a suspicious looking blah blah blah." Then, after the initial imagery of the entire police force getting involved, "The Call" decides to dial it back, likely to up the simplicity level of the film. We are then treated to one cop driving around like a mad man. "The Call" wants you to figure that the safety and well-being of this little girl depends entirely upon one cop driving around in circles.
The helicopter will only make cameo appearances from here on out, and it offers all the helpful utility of a clown in floppy shoes. Well sure, clearly everyone wants a story that is easy to follow and offers character development, but to do so at the expense of any hope of a realistic film, well, that seems not so clever. "The Call" is a film where you can feel the puppet strings being pulled, each and every character's motivation being derived from exactly what the script wants them to do. There is no life force, no authenticity, it's a movie by proxy mixed with large amounts of "just because".
45 minutes into "The Call" you can tell it's a movie that should last an hour. I actively wondered how they could possibly stretch the film out, and then, in horror, I realized the plan. They were going to place generic time-wasting obstacles in front of all of the protagonists. In one instance a character's cell phone doesn't have service (natch), a groan-worthy device exacerbated by the fact that we just saw someone else make a call from the exact same spot. Then, 20 minutes later, service is magically restored in the exact same spot. It's a double whammy of awfulness. There are also plenty of times you might find yourself screaming at the screen, "Where are all the other policemen? Does Los Angeles only have one officer that they ask to do everything? Can we give him a raise and some rocket boots?"
There is also the rather large issue of the grand finale. It's preposterous on a level we haven't seen since Christopher Guest was delivering genius mockumentaries. In the final moments of the film, "The Call" manages to throw away any goodwill it hasn't already squandered, going for a cheap thrill to "wow" people with. It's a surprise, to be sure, but so is finding a rotting fish in your desk. With this sledgehammer of an ending, "The Call" officially stakes out a claim as a forgettable film, to be lost to the ages once the weekend passes.
Where do we end up with a film like "The Call"? Some modicum of love must be given for a few elements, the look is crisp, the acting is solid, and there are a few really poignant moments that drive home the thin line between life and death for those on the front lines of emergency services. Still, even with all that, "The Call" manages to falter, a pretty remarkable feat given most movies of its ilk aspire to the very things "The Call" accomplishes. As it stands, "The Call" is an active affront to logic, placing us in a world we firmly know doesn't exist.
Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and researched LAPD response times to verify one of the elements of "The Call".