Friday, March 29, 2013

THE CALL (2013)

Rated: R

Stars:  Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin,  Michael Eklund, Morris Chestnut 
Director: Brad Anderson
Genre: Thriller

In most films where some crazed psychopath is on the loose, those who encounter him always do something really stupid that puts their lives in jeopardy. Otherwise, the plot won't work. In The Call,  EVERYBODY, including the bad guy,  does stupid things--which, needless to say,  makes the whole plot pretty... uh... stupid.  But director Brad Anderson, who gave us the excellent Transsiberian , has crafted a fairly decent (though totally formulaic)  thriller here, aided by deft editing and a music score that effectively ratchets up the tension and suspense throughout. 

And by now, most sophisticated film fans--such as you and me--are pretty forgiving of  implausible plot elements, as long as the movie takes us on a wild enough ride. 

Jordan (Halle Berry) is a 911 dispatcher in L.A., where the phones never stop ringing. Sometimes it's just a lovable drunk the operators are familiar with, but sometimes it's a teenage girl who's about to be abducted by the aforementioned psycho (portrayed convincingly with just the right amount of creepiness by Michael Eklund). Jordan does her best to handle the situation and steer it toward a good end, but it all goes awry when the girl's body is discovered. This haunts Jordan, because she did something STUPID while on the phone with the girl. Now her nerves are frayed, and she opts for the job of teaching new operator recruits, rather than manning the phones. 

And as The Call follows the formula for these kinds of movies to the hilt, you know that another teen girl (Abigail Breslin) is going to end up in the clutches of the perp, who then does the STUPIDEST thing himself. Everybody knows that every teenage girl carries a cell phone, but this guy fails to check to see if she's got one on her when he stuffs her into the trunk of his car and peels out!  So the abductee, named Casey, calls 911 from inside her claustrophobic confines. 

The operator who takes the call becomes frazzled and turns to Jordan, saying she doesn't know what to do. (This film does not inspire confidence in the ability of 911 dispatchers to remain calm and cool under pressure--or for that matter, the effectiveness of police response time!)  After some momentary soul searching,  Jordan takes over. She is in her element again, and she gives Casey some creative instructions on how to try to save herself.

When police units are unsuccessful in honing in on the maniac's whereabouts,  (and as you will see, he is one twisted dude) Jordan does the CLASSIC stupid thing and gets personally involved, tracking him down and placing herself in harm's way. 

Be forewarned there are a couple of  scenes of some real nasty gore in The Call.  There is also some eyebrow-raising titillation involving Abigail Breslin, (whom you may remember as the precocious kid from Sunshine Cleaning) age 16 at the time of filming, stripped down to her skimpy bra. 

With all of its flaws, such as the bare bones of a subplot involving Jordan's cop boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) that is never developed, this movie does keep you glued to your seat right up to its twisted surprise twist at the end.

You make the call.    

Grade:  B --


Saturday, March 16, 2013


Rated:  R

Stars: Rooney Mara,  Jude Law,  Catherine Zeta-Jones,  Channing Tatum
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Not since we all bought into the idea that Lois Lane couldn't figure out that Clark Kent and Superman were the same dude--just because Clark wore glasses and Superman didn't-- has our willing suspension of disbelief  been stretched to the point of  losing its elasticity like a five year-old pair of  boxer shorts.  But besides the highly implausible and convoluted plot,  it's a pretty  engrossing  yarn of deception and intrigue that's being spun in Side Effects.

Rooney Mara is Emily Taylor, an unstable woman who deliberately crashes her car inside a parking garage and ends up taking anti-depressants under the care of  shrink Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  One of the side-effects of the drug she is taking is sleepwalking, and in one of those episodes she stabs her husband,(Channing Tatum) to death.  Which was adding insult to injury because he just got out of the pokey after doing a four year stint for insider trading, and now look... he's dead.  (Damn, didn't you read the label on this stuff?  It says quite clearly that it may cause drowsiness, headache, AND A SUDDEN AND  OVERWHELMING DESIRE TO MURDER YOUR SPOUSE!) 

Emily goes on trial, pleads insanity, and is confined to a mental institution. In a sense, this is where Side Effects begins, as the roller coaster plot unfolds from here. And much like The Sixth Sense, nothing is what it appears to be. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones has a very interesting turn as Emily's former therapist, complete with lesbo scenes. She's  one of the last I would expect to go that route, but you know,  DAHLING,  no one can be considered a serious actress TODAY  without it on your resume.

Side Effects will have you shaking your head due to its sheer bravado in asking you  to say, " could happen."  And while you can figure out who's the good guy and who's the bad guy in most films,  there is no one here who turns out lily white at the end. 

Grade:  B +