In countless films about emergencies, crimes and police work, the 911 dispatcher is but a bit player, an anonymous, robotic voice briefly heard on the other end of a breathless call made by our movie's main players.
But in "The Call," the 911 operator gets a starring role. It would seem to be long overdue, since Halle Berry is apparently among their ranks.
She's a highly professional emergency operator in Los Angeles, where the trauma of a first kidnapping case has forced her to hang up the headset. But, having shifted to a trainer position, she's lured back for a second kidnapping call when a rookie dispatcher can't handle the frightened pleas from a teenager trapped in a car's trunk (Abigail Breslin).
"The Call" dials up a shallow thrill ride, but one efficiently peppered with your typical "don't go in there!" moments. But what once was usual for Hollywood – reliable, popcorn-eating genre frights – isn't so much anymore. "The Call" is a rudimentary, almost old-fashioned 90-minute escape that manages to achieve its low ambitions.
But while "The Call" manages to build some suspense from the trunk of the car – the clever attempts to elicit help, the dwindling cellphone battery – its deficiencies become less forgivable after the action turns off the road. Michael Eklund's psychopath kidnapper is cartoonishly drawn.
Berry keeps the film rolling even when it veers off course. Breslin, making a leap to more sordid territory, has little to do but be scared.