The Call Dir. Brad Anderson

[TriStar/Troika; 2013]

Styles: thriller, mystery
Others: When A Stranger Calls, Taken, Trapped, Kiss The Girls

Halle Berry seems to have spent the last decade trying to prove herself worthy of the richly deserved Academy Award she picked up in 2001 for Monster’s Ball. Unfortunately, she either has the worst agents around or a terrible eye for what would make a worthwhile project. Just a few of the questionable decisions she has made over the past 10 years: Gothika, New Year’s Eve, Cloud Atlas, and, of course, Catwoman (Editor’s note: a TMT favorite).

With her new starring role in The Call, Berry takes at least one small step back towards her glory day. Well, for the first third of the film, anyway. In that 25-minute chunk, she looks appropriately shaken and emotionally wrecked as Jordan, a 911 operator haunted by an unfortunate mistake on a call that led to the murder of a young teen. The regret and pain feels real, and manages to draw a little sympathy towards her character.

The rest of the film is Berry trying to catch that fire again. It doesn’t help that the plot and action that surround her swing from mildly suspenseful to outright laughable. The film starts six months after the initial incident; Jordan is trying to teach a class of newbies the 911 ropes. She ends up on a call with another young woman (Abigail Breslin) who has been kidnapped in the parking garage of a mall, calling from the trunk of her abductor’s car. Lo and behold, it turns out to be the same guy who killed the young girls six months prior.

From this point on, Berry looks lost. Sometimes on purpose, other times because of her harried reading of hackneyed dialogue. She gesticulates wildly, furrows her brow, and tears up many times: all the things you would expect an actress to do. But it never comes across as convincing.

Berry’s performance could have been smoothed over by a stronger plot and stronger direction, but director Brad Anderson (another film industry vet who showed great promise at one point in his career) and screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio are content to just toss easily digestible references to other films at the audience: a bit of The Fugitive here, a splash of The Silence Of The Lambs there. It would merely be laughable if it weren’t wrapped roughly together with rapid-fire editing and random bits of slowmo that serve to induce headaches instead of laughs. And this without mentioning the eye-rolling big reveal of the serial killer’s motivations — or poor Michael Imperioli getting hit over the head with a shovel. But it’s poor Berry who is going to be left flapping in the breeze here. If you can buy her transformation in The Call from a broken woman into a “fighter,” then you’ll have no problem swallowing this wafer thin thriller. Otherwise, it’s just another step in her unfortunate climb towards the bottom.

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