Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut
Directed by: Brad Anderson (“The Machinist,” “Transsiberian”)
Written by: Richard D’Ovidio (“Thir13en Ghosts,” “Exit Wounds”)
From time to time, publicists send out emails to film writers across the country to make them aware of upcoming movies. These typically include the stars, the title, and release date, so that if you are preparing some sort of seasonal movie guide or something, you’ll be able to populate it with all the relevant information your readers will need. In the case of the new Halle Berry film “The Call,” however, we got an email two months ago advising us that the new “UNTITLED HALLE BERRY THRILLER” would be released in “SPRING 2013.” It’s rarely a good omen when a publicist can’t drum up something less generic than that.
In “The Call,” Halle Berry stars as hotshot Los Angeles 911 operator Jordan Turner. Working in the slick call center known as The Hive, Jordan is a rock star, handling emergencies and prank calls like a champ. When a teenage girl calls to report a man breaking into her house, Jordan buckles down and talks the teen skillfully through how to throw the prowler off her trail and hide until the police arrive. When the girl accidentally disconnects the line and Jordan redials, however, the man is able to find the teen’s hiding place thanks to the ringing phone. After taunting Jordan over the phone, the man kidnaps and kills the girl, sending Jordan spiraling into a moral crisis over her mistake. Six months later, Jordan takes the call of another abducted teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) and must overcome her personal demons to help save her.
In spite of the ho-hum premise that wouldn’t be out of place as the plot of a typical “Law and Order” episode, for the first hour “The Call” just plain works. Director Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”) fills each frame with tension, sticking extreme close-ups of Breslin panicking in the trunk next to surveillance-style footage of the kidnapper’s car speeding anonymously down an L.A. freeway. The interaction between Berry and Breslin on the phone feels real, and the tactics Berry has Breslin employ to get the attention of other drivers (like kicking out the tail lights and pouring paint out to leave a trail) are extremely clever. When the chase ends, though, is where some disappointment sets in. The last half hour starts going to some icky-yet-routine places as the kidnapper drags the half-naked Breslin down to his underground dungeon to begin whatever psychotic ritual he had in mind. All is not lost, though, as a last-second plot zigzag (that I won’t spoil here) gives the ending a weirdly satisfying kick.
What kind of contractor builds those underground sex dungeons anyway?