I used to compare M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (2008) to a big, dumb dog — one that would knock over your lamp or chew on your shoes, but was ultimately lovable since it was too dumb to be malicious. Brad Anderson’s The Call isn’t just a big, dumb dog. It also slobbers too much, smells to high heaven and, mostly, you just want it to stop relieving itself on your carpet. Even in the early part of the year with a whole lot of bad movies, The Call is the dumbest of them all. Not dumb in a crass A Haunted House sort of way (a movie which, by the way, understands that its audience wants a bunch of weed and dick jokes), but in a way that assumes its audience doesn’t have the attention span to realize the movie’s as leaden as a bag of hammers. I suppose the original theory was that The Call would be such a fast-paced thrill-ride that no one would notice their credulity being stretched like bubblegum bubble. But Anderson’s film isn’t good enough to overlook all the unbelievable plot points and goofy schlock that makes up the last third, making a movie that’s almost entertaining for its myriad of flaws. But, mostly, it’s so shockingly stupid that its shortcomings are distracting.
The Call follows Jordan (Halle Berry with Tim Burton hair), a 911 operator who gets a call from a teenage girl who’s frightened by an intruder attempting to enter her home. After initially fooling this miscreant, Jordan makes a mistake that results in the girl being kidnapped and eventually murdered. This traumatizes Jordan and, six months later, she’s devolved into handling new trainees and staying far away from the stresses of taking 911 calls. That is, until another teenager named Casey (Abigail Breslin) calls after having been abducted and shoved into the trunk of a car, and Jordan feels the need to help her find her — by suggesting clever ways for Casey to alert bystanders — like knocking out a brake light and pouring paint out the back of the car — until Jordan learns that (surprise) Casey’s abductor is the same fateful one Jordan encountered six or so months before.
I’m not opposed to this setup, but The Call assumes suspension of disbelief at every turn. This is a movie that wholly depends on the world’s most awe-inspiringly inefficient police force, and absolutely no one in Los Angeles spotting our bad guy (Michael Eklund, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus) running around in broad daylight stabbing people with screwdrivers on the side of the road and bludgeoning people half to death in parking lots. Eventually, the film tries to morph into something like a run-of-the-mill horror flick, complete with creepy basement lair for our villain, whose flimsy (and thematically lazy) obsession with his dead sister — and possibly a love of bad ‘80s pop — is driving all of this. Director Anderson, who has a small following from his films like Session 9 (2001) and gimmicky Tenant rip-off The Machinist (2004), attempts to keeps things modestly stylish, but ends up with a film that is too trashy to be taken seriously, and too serious to get any fun out of either. Regardless, Anderson’s approach never comes close to making up for how dumb The Call is. Rated R for violence, disturbing content and some language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltomore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher