In the film that garnered her an Oscar nomination, Abigail Breslin played a girl whose life was changed because of a phone call. In Little Miss Sunshine, a phone call–and the consequential message that followed– informed her character that she was going to be a contestant in an upcoming beauty contest.
In her latest film The Call, Breslin’s character has a life-changing moment on the phone as well. The call at the heart of this story isn’t about a win-or-lose competition. It’s about a life-or-death emergency.
Breslin plays Casey Welson, a respectable teenager who is kidnapped in the parking garage of a mall. One minute she’s on the phone talking to a peer and the next moment an unknown assailant has shoved her into the trunk of his car. Welson quickly realizes that her phone still works and she calls 911, reaching an operative named Jordan Turner (Halle Berry).
As moviegoers know from earlier sequences in the story, Turner is haunted by an earlier situation where a simple mistake she made during a call led to the kidnapping and eventual murder of a young girl. Turner is no longer taking phone calls but picks up the phone when another operative can’t handle the situation. The Call isn’t one for subtlety so every coincidence–such as the similarities between Turner’s tragic call and this one–that could exist do.
As the story proceeds, Turner provides comfort and advice to Welson. In these moments, the proceedings have a unique quality to them. Because Welson’s disposable phone can’t be traced, Turner must come up with ideas that could help local law enforcement officials find the car. Although some of these ideas are presented in the film’s trailer, others arrive as nice surprises that keep the story’s momentum on track.
The call between Welson and Turner provides the overarching narrative in the story, and the tension builds nicely as the kidnapper finds himself unknowingly matching wits with a bright and determined young woman. But the call inevitably ends and the plot implodes from then on out. In fact, listening to a dial tone would be less ludicrous than watching the silly twists that dominate the story’s final act.
At that point, the intriguing relationship between the emergency operator and the victim is gone and what’s left is a bland and monstrously unbelievable third act. Even the main characters seem to lose their personalities when logic exits the stage.
On television’s Happy Days, there was an episode where Henry Winkler’s character–the Fonz– rode his motorcycle over a shark, which reportedly coined the phrase “jumping the shark.” At that point, viewers felt the show had passed its peak and was on a downward spiral. Unlike most movies, The Call has a specific “jumping the shark” moment. When the call ends between Welson and Turner, everything goes haywire. The story loses all credibility. The characters lose their grip on reality. And the movie itself loses its purpose.
Its first two acts are intriguing but its dismal– it’s remarkable how this story falls right off the ledge– third act ruins everything before it.