Director Brad Anderson has a dynamic resume filled with several assured genre films. Usually his work doesn’t make a huge wave upon release, but later acquires a cult following on home video. Movies like Session 9 and The Machinist, for example. He’s received his share of accolades and always seems like he’s on the cusp of a major Hollywood breakthrough. His latest, The Call, is not that gateway film. Although it’s his highest grossing work, it feels like a step back for him. At least Sony has given the film a terrific Blu-ray package that contains one of the GREATEST special features in recent memory. Get the dish on The Call Blu-ray after the jump.
Halle Berry (Catwoman) plays Jordan, a seasoned 911 operator in L.A. Sporting a junior Eraserhead wig and tight polo shirt, she handles a diverse range of calls like a well-oiled machine. Some of the calls are serious, some are bullshit. One regular caller just seems lonely. From what I’ve heard, it’s a lot like what real operators deal with every day. After some brief flirting with her officer boyfriend (Morris Chesnut – Under Siege 2: Dark Territory), she answers a home invasion call from a teenage girl. Jordan instructs the girl to pull of a ridiculous ruse to make the intruder think she’s escaped through a window, which is insane when you think about it, but still manages to work. That is until Jordan makes a small but grave mistake and the girl winds up being kidnapped and buried in a shallow grave. Hey man, everyone has their off days. Six months later, Jordan has resigned from operator duty to train the call center’s new recruits. She’s walking some trainees through the call center – referred to as “The Hive” – when a call comes from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has been abducted and locked in the trunk of a car.
The rookie operator who answered the call is understandably panicking, so Jordan reluctantly takes the reigns. The film makes it out to be some shocking twist that Breslin’s abductor is the same guy who nabbed the girl six months earlier, but it’s pretty damn obvious. It would be weird if it wasn’t and Jordan just had some cosmically shitty luck. The abductor is played by Michael Eklund (88 Minutes), who previously worked with Brad Anderson on an episode of Fringe.
Eklund is one of those actors Uwe Boll keeps in his stable (he’s been in about six of his films) so you know the guy can ham it up. He’s pretty restrained here though. His character is sort of a middle-ground serial killer. He doesn’t dance around with his prick tucked between his legs, but he does enjoy niche pop music, like Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” He doesn’t seem to have a well-thought out abduction scheme (his technique is actually pretty risky and sloppy) but he does have an underground lair. I guess “amateur” is a good word to describe this guy. As far as we know, this is only his second caper. At the end of the day though, Eklund makes a fine scumbag. In real life, if he so much as smiled at my hypothetical daughter, I would move outta the country. Back at the call center, Jordan’s colleagues are desperately trying to get a trace on Breslin’s phone. It’s one of those cheap, pre-paid numbers that Ludacris used to do commercials for. I’m pretty sure disposables are traceable in real life (I’ll have to watch The Wire again), but that technical plot-point makes it possible for The Call‘s juicier moments in which Jordan and Breslin try to outwit Ecklund.
Let’s be real. Jordan’s instructions already got one girl killed, so maybe she shouldn’t be handling this call. But her superior just stands off to the side, listening in and nodding her head like this is some kind of required test for Jordan and not a life or death situation where a little girl is locked in the fucking trunk of a killer’s car. All nit-picking aside, The Call sets itself up to be a pretty sweet thriller. Unfortunately, it lacks any kind of style beyond music video flourishes like freeze frames and speed ramping. Anderson infused none of the inventiveness or attractive darkness of his earlier work. There’s the claustrophobic aspect, but there’s no strong spatial awareness to pull it off. The whole atmosphere is very bland, which is surprising because that aspect of Anderson’s previous work has always been truly impressive. It’s like the studio managed to sneak a DTV into theaters.
Aside from the great premise, the screenplay is pretty dumb and only loses more brain cells as the film goes on. It was penned by Richard D’Ovidio, whose last writing credit was the Seagal sleeper Exit Wounds, which has aged very well. Have you watched Exit Wounds lately? You should. The Call would’ve surely benefited from some of the campiness D’Ovidio injected into Exit Wounds, but sadly, this one just takes itself way too seriously.
The film isn’t all bad. The premise is cool and the ending is nicely ambiguous with an exploitation vibe – something you don’t see a lot of in big-budget thrillers nowadays. I think The Call will do really well on home video. It’s an easily digestible thriller that’ll surely be emptied from Red Boxes in a flash then forgotten about. Which kinda sucks, because there’s never been a film about 911 operators – the unsung, stalwart heroes of society. They deserve a better film! One of my friends works in the Orlando call center and she got a laugh out of it. So, there’s that.
Sony presents The Call in 1080p HD in 1.85:1 widescreen with 5.1 DTS Master Audio. It looks fantastic and there are no visual hiccups or blemishes. It sounds great too and is particularly immersive during the home invasion and inside the hectic “Hive.” The commentary with writer Richard D’Ovidio, director Brad Anderson, Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, and the producers is decent. The gang talks about how the original idea was to make a television series, how Halle was their first and only choice, and the research that went into the film. With so many participants, it’s a lively commentary track that’s worth a listen if you dug the film. The 15-minute behind the scenes feature is pretty good. The producers, director, and actor talk about filming and how being locked in a trunk would suck. Halle Berry, on the other hand, is ridiculous. I’ve never liked her as an actress and never understood how she became such a star – let alone an Oscar winner. She’s really not that good and just like her other films, not once in The Call does she come off as sincere or believable. In the making-of she talks about how she’s “always” wondered what it would be like to be a 911 operator and how she “relates” to the role. Sure, Halle. I bet while you’re polishing your undeserved Oscar and rolling around your bed of gold you’ve always thought about those brave, emotionally courageous 911 operators who you relate to so much.
The alternate ending is really an extended ending with Halle and Breslin walking off into the sunset. Nothing juicy here. Four deleted and extended scenes are included. There’s more of Morris Chesnut, who’s clearly still trying to redeem himself after his disastrous role as the goofy, unnecessary sidekick in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. “Inside the Stunts” has the stuntmen and stunt coordinators talking about specific action sequences. None of the stunts or fights in the film are particularly impressive, so it’s weird that this is a feature. For real, there’s a bit in this seven minute feature where Halle Berry, Michael Ecklund, and two stunt coordinators talk about how Ecklund had to fall on a cushion. Snoozeville.
Rounding out the package is a set visit to “The Hive” and “The Lair.” Skip those and go right to Michael Ecklund’s audition footage, which is INSANE! This is it, folks. One of the best special features of the decade! Ecklund clearly wanted this role more than anything else in the world, so he filmed himself, naked, making a mannequin stroke his hair in bed. Then he spits at himself in the mirror. Then he’s curled up in the corner in his underwear. Then he’s sitting in a kitchen chair, draped in a blanket, staring at the blonde-wigged mannequin that has pictures of eyes and a mouth cut out from a magazine taped to its face. THEN HE STARTS DANCING IN HIS UNDERWEAR WITH THE MANNEQUIN. You guys, this is honestly one of the best special features in recent memory.
Ecklund is WAY creepier in his audition footage than the film and it’s a damn shame he wasn’t allowed to go as bonkers on screen like he does here. He’s a creep in the film, but in his audition footage he’s actually creepy. The audition also has him portraying a much more sympathetic character than the one-sided evil guy he is in the film. Why did they make him tone it down in the film? WHY?! Not only does he deliver an audition performance that trumps the one in the film, but the footage is actually more entertaining! He does basically the entire film – or at least nearly every scene that he’s in. It’s like a low-budget homage to Maniac, with Ecklund channeling the ghost of the almighty Joe Spinnell. That feature alone makes The Call a must-rent. Watch the movie first then jump right to Ecklund’s audition and weep over the insane performance that could’ve been.