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Looking for something to make your blood pump a little faster? Then bring a date to grab onto and buy tickets for The Call, a guilty pleasure featuring Halle Berry as a 911 operator on the hunt for a killer.
Jordan (Berry) works in the organized chaos of the Los Angeles Police Department 911 call centre, nicknamed “the hive” because it’s always buzzing with activity, ranging from suicides and stabbings to reports of bats in the house and requests for directions to the nearest Starbucks.
When call operators get overwhelmed by an especially stressful call they can go to the Quiet Room; if the trauma of the call sticks with them, they are referred to an on-call staff doctor. “You might be the difference between somebody living and somebody dying,” and when you can’t live with that, says Jordan, it’s time to get out.
Jordan was the operator on a call that resulted in a young girl’s death. Six months later she is haunted by the “what ifs,” popping pills and off of the call floor, teaching new hires how to man the phones. “Stay emotionally detached,” she advises. “And never, ever make promises.” While taking the recruits on a tour of the hive a call comes in: a teenage girl has been abducted and is calling from the trunk of a car, frantic. The brand-new operator is overwhelmed and so Jordan takes over, with a creeping sense of deja vu.
Casey (Abigail Breslin) is a sweet thing: she won’t even swear to her best friend. But Jordan tells her to fight. The two communicate by cellphone in a race against time, and a fight against iffy technology (Casey is on a trac phone, which can’t easily be traced). Casey leaves a last message for her mother on the 911 tapes, and her “please don’t forget me” is the film’s most poignant moment.
Rule number one: Follow your gut. If you chase down a motorist and get a bad feeling when he’s sweating profusely and fiddling in his trunk, he’s probably going to kill you, either with a tire iron or with his terrible taste in music (the bad guy is trapped in the past, circa Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon”).
When her police officer boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) can’t get the job done, Jordan goes a-hunting on her own. Armed only with a flashlight, she races into the field and stumbles (in the dark!) right into the crime scene.
Rule number two: always call for backup. If you don’t, particularly if you’re female, and it’s dark, and you’re not even a cop, and you know that a killer is lurking nearby, people will laugh at your movie.
The Call is a more mainstream offering from WWE Studios, who previously specialized in films featuring wrestling stars such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena. (This month the company also produced Dead Man Down, starring Colin Farrell.) Brad Anderson is ordinarily an indie film director (The Machinist, Transsiberian), and he keeps the movie from being one prolonged hysterical conversation, so that Casey’s cell-phone communiqué from the trunk doesn’t become like Ryan Reynolds’ two-hour-long coffin chat in Buried.
But the acting makes the film. Berry is believably frazzled in a high-stakes job, showing cracks in her professional composure befitting a mom (we see a photo of a child, presumably living with dad). Breslin has the daunting task of crying and screaming for most of the film, and Michael Eklund (Watchmen) is creepy, alright.
The worst part (other than the title, which harkens back to a band from the ’80s) is when Berry’s character peers down into the hatch, and the American flag is seen flying resolutely above her head (a device left over from John Cena’s The Marine, perhaps?). Just save the girl, already!
The ending is improbable but satisfactory. With nods to The Lovely Bones and Silence of the Lambs, for starters, The Call is a crowd-pleaser, thanks to old-school scares and the tension, which rarely lags.