An intelligent viewer of thrillers will feel his heart sink when the headlights of Halle Berrys car point up a mountain road in The Call.
Up to that moment, weve been watching a tightly constructed police procedural, in which 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) works with officers in the field to track and rescue kidnapped high school girl Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin).
But once Jordan sets off to find the serial killer responsible who, of course, slew a caller she couldnt save six months earlier the movie turns into the kind of lone-wolf revenge fantasy Ashley Judd made so profitably a dozen years ago, where slavering audiences can applaud the humiliation and elimination of a screaming psycho.
Richard DOvidios screenplay holds together for a long while, despite large coincidences the main cop in the L.A.-wide hunt happens to be Jordans lover (Morris Chestnut) and some unusual but credible good luck for the madman (Michael Eklund).
We see how the 911 infrastructure works and how crucial and resourceful these operators can be, though I was surprised to see almost no one on duty after midnight.
We admire the quick thinking and coordination with police in the field, and we follow the intrepid Casey through all her attempts to break free. (It helps to have actresses of the caliber of Breslin and Berry in such undeveloped roles.)
But the movie can never break free of its genre. And after a while, it stops trying.
Director Brad Anderson, who once made such provocative and unique fare as Next Stop Wonderland and The Machinist, has finished only one other feature film in the last five years: the virtually unseen horror movie Vanishing on 7th Street.
He finds interesting points of view, slowing down and speeding up the action, but he ends up shooting the kind of lurid nonsense we get from a Joel Schumacher thriller.
Schumacher (Trespass) was initially slated to direct The Call, in fact. Hed have been at home with scenes where someone stuns the killer, then fails to finish him off and turns around to become the victim of another assault.
Hes behind her! said the woman sitting in back of me, waiting for the madman to pounce again in one of those inane situations. And when he did, she gasped in surprise. If you cant respond the same way, youre not in the target audience for The Call.