"The Call" had me at "911, where's your emergency?" but lost me when it turned into a freak show and revenge fantasy.
Halle Berry, with a cloud of curls rather than her signature red-carpet hairstyle, plays Jordan Turner, a veteran emergency call center operator for the LAPD. She and her colleagues offer efficient, calm lifelines to the general public until police, ambulance, fire or other rescue crews can arrive.
One night, Jordan takes a call from a panicked teenager who is home alone when a prowler breaks in. A momentary lapse in judgment has tragic results, and although she steps away from the pressure cooker of fielding calls herself, she ends up putting the headset back on when a teenager, Casey (Abigail Breslin), is kidnapped and stuffed in the trunk of a car.
2 stars = Mediocre
Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin.
R for violence, disturbing content and some language.
"The Call" is at its best when Jordan has to use her wits to try to figure out where Casey is, who abducted her and how the girl can signal for help before it's too late. Jordan breaks the rules and vows, "I promise you, you're going to see your mother again," but she may not be able to deliver.
When the movie closes in on the identity of the kidnapper and his twisted motivations and machinations, it jumps the rails and never returns. It turns from a taut, suspenseful story into a mix of cheap horror -- complete with a loner's pursuit for justice and Ms. Breslin, 16, being forced to play several scenes in a bra and jeans -- and an attempt to settle sadistic scores.
Director Brad Anderson ("The Machinist," "Transsiberian") has assembled a cast led by the Oscar-winning and very capable Ms. Berry and Ms. Breslin, nominated for her youthful turn in "Little Miss Sunshine," along with Morris Chestnut, Michael Imperioli and Michael Eklund.
Jordan's background is dismissed with a family photo and a cautionary bit of advice, and some of the supporting actors aren't given much to do. The creepy killer doesn't even get the usual soliloquy or confrontation where he can elaborate on the anguish that drives him to do such awful, awful things.
Its depiction of "the Hive," or the 911 nerve center, is fascinating and leaves you wanting more, but, in the end, it borrows a page from Quentin Tarantino and goes for the bloodlust (which produced audience applause at a preview) instead of a real resolution.