Rare is the thriller that goes as completely and utterly wrong as “The Call” does at almost precisely the one-hour mark.
By ROGER MOORE
Which is a crying shame, because for an hour, this is a riveting kidnapping, with a Hollywood budget and a director with a sense of urgency and camera lenses that put the action, the fear and horror right in your face.
Brad Anderson (“Transsiberian,” “The Machinist”) turns this innovative procedural — a serial killer hunt set inside L.A.’s 911 call center — into an edge-of-your-seat thriller. With Halle Berry, as a veteran 911 operator whose mistake months ago haunts her, and Abigail Breslin, as a kidnapped teen on the cellphone from a darkened car trunk, plus a half decent tale of horror, guilt, problem solving and redemption, Anderson couldn’t go far wrong.
Until he and the movie do.
But up until then, from the moment Casey (Breslin) makes the frantic, gasping, tearful call to the moment logic takes a holiday, “The Call” works.
Berry’s character, Jordan, is the daughter of a cop, dating another cop (Morris Chestnut), somebody whose dad taught her that she has to be able to handle the knowledge “that you might be the difference between somebody living and somebody dying.” She’s been struggling with that since her blunder led an intruder to a victim six months before.
Now, on an afternoon when she’s walking recruits through training at the call center, aka the Hive, explaining the technology to them (and to the audience), another girl is grabbed. This one has a phone and she’s calling from the trunk. Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) makes us feel her terror, mainly in her voice.
Berry wears the dread on her face. She can’t help herself.
“The Call” lets us reason along with the operator and the caller, figuring out options. They are a mix of by-the-book details and amusing examples of thinking outside the box to outwit the kidnapper, another in a long line of Norman “Psycho” Bates twitchy psycho-killers (Michael Eklund).
Anderson teases out solutions, tempts us with bystander help and shows how the system can work in a case like this — linking calls, triangulating cellphone signals, dispatching cops, trying to beat the clock that they’re racing against.
It’s only when the story strings out its finale that the film goes wrong, only when our Oscar-winning heroine puts down the phone and sets out to sleuth on her own that “The Call” disconnects, and this turns into something far more generic, far more routine and far less exciting.