No question: Answering 911 calls for a living has to be one of the world's toughest jobs. For a time, it seems as if the new Halle Berry thriller, The Call, is going to use such high-stress 911 work as the basis for a tautly conceived, high-tension movie.
Too bad The Call -- which initially succeeds at keeping us on edge -- quickly shows its low-caliber hand. Much of the movie's gut-wrenching fervor stems from watching a teen-ager being subjected to varying degrees of torment -- by being abducted, shoved in the trunk of a car and finally stowed in an underground hideout where ... well ... vile things are intended.
Berry plays Jordan, a Los Angeles-based 911 operator who's traumatized by an early picture call in which she overhears a young woman being murdered. A deeply shaken Jordan, who made a mistake that may have contributed to the girl's death, takes a break from her 911 duties, opting to train others in the art of answering high-stakes calls.
When another teen-ager (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped at an upscale mall, Jordan must re-don her headset to confront a wily and sadistic criminal, as well as lingering doubts about her own effectiveness. Of course, she's after the same killer who threw her off her game in the first place.
Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) knows how to work an audience over, but the screenplay for The Call becomes increasingly implausible, forcing Berry's character to behave in risible ways and leading to an ending that threatens to turn the movie into a Silence of the Lambs knock-off.
The movie's at its best when Jordan's trying to communicate (via cell phone) with Breslin's character who has been locked in the trunk of a car that's barreling down one of LA's freeways.
The movie's ending plays like a formulaic afterthought that makes a mockery of verisimilitude while pandering to an audience's lust for vengeance.
The supporting cast doesn't much matter here, but Morris Chestnut is mostly wasted as an LAPD cop who's also Jordan's love interest, and Michael Imperioli (of Sopranos fame) has been given what may turn out to be the year's most thankless role. I can't describe it here without including a major spoiler, but those who venture into this often distasteful thriller will know exactly what I'm talking about.