Genre: Thriller | Run Time: 96 min | Rated: R | Director: Brad Anderson
Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund
Reviewed by: George Wolf
Let’s be honest, The Call is a pretty weak movie title. And, if you’ve seen the film’s preview trailer, odds are that didn’t knock you out either.
So, surprise! The movie itself is pretty engaging.
Halle Berry, sporting a bad hairdo to make her look more “average”, plays L.A. 911 operator Jordan Turner. While on the line with a young girl who is trying to avoid a kidnapper, Jordan has a slight lapse in judgment that ends up having tragic consequences.
Months later, Jordan is handed a call from Casey, (Abigail Breslin) another young victim who has managed to call 911 from the trunk of her kidnapper’s car. Finding that they are both Capricorns, Jordan tells Casey that, as born “fighters,” they are going to help each other fight back against the attacker.
When The Call succeeds, it is mainly a result of good directing trumping bad writing. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) has a solid grasp on the action, often filming in extreme, shaky closeup to aid the feel of disorientation. When passing motorists or helpful gas station attendants try to come to Casey’s aid, Anderson pulls back, letting events unfold with proper tension.
Too often, though, these effective segments are interrupted by momentum-killing scenes full of stilted, implausible dialogue, such as when Jordan is training new employees on the 911 system. After a speech that overly educates the audience, Jordan is asked why she isn’t actually taking the calls anymore. Cue dramatic flashback…just before she’s called back into action!
As Casey’s situation grows more desperate, The Call wanders into the horror neighborhood, and Anderson gets caught up giving too many homages to one particular horror classic. To avoid spoilers, I won’t mention the film, but if you’re a horror fan, there’s little question you’ll miss the references.
Berry, as is the case with too many Oscar winners, has had trouble following her Monster’s Ball win in 2001 with solid roles in good films. The Call, while certainly not award-worthy, is a well-paced and effective crowd-pleaser that should generate enough positive word-of-mouth to make it a hit.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE
Genre: Comedy | Run Time: 100 min | Rated: PG-13 | Director: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin
Reviewed by: George Wolf
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone squanders an interesting premise and a talented cast on an atonal, uninspired comedy. It’s the kind of film that generates a few grins with its general pleasantness, but never offers the kind of laugh out loud moments that let you overlook its larger flaws.
The ever-likeable Steve Carell plays Burt Wonderstone, the bewigged and bejeweled Vegas magician whose lost his love of magic just in time for his public to move on to the next big thing – Jim Carrey’s extreme magician Steve Grey (think David Blaine with self-mutilation tendencies).
It’s not a bad idea, but it is badly executed. Wonderstone can’t decide if it’s a spoof or a family film. In the end, it succeeds at neither aim.
Rather than mining for pop culture laughs, as its screenplay attempts to do in spurts, director Don Scardino wallows in sentiment. Will Burt recover his childlike wonder? Learn to appreciate what he has right in front of him? Wow back a crowd? These probing questions and others are emphasized at every turn with an overbearing score, in case you might miss the emotionally moving moments.
Part of the reason Scardino’s schmaltzy approach doesn’t work is that it’s at odds with the script itself. Gags about making foggy old ladies cry, bringing magic (rather than food) to starving children, and performing wildly inappropriate “tricks” at a birthday party – not to mention a nutty, drug-fueled finale – should have felt edgier, but they are so softened by Scardino’s family-friendly vibe that they barely leave an impression.
But if Carell’s egomaniac feels a little forced (it sure does!), then his change of heart feels a lot forced. Carell’s comic timing and sense of the absurd often carry him through lifeless scenes, but it’s not enough to overcome the lazily written dialogue no matter how much velvet and glitter he throws at it.
Carrey’s fun as the star of the internet program Brain Rapist (another funny bit that feels out of place), but he’s far too old to play an up-and-coming street performer. Rather than youthful competition, he looks like Carell’s white trash uncle.
Actually, both actors are 51 – also known as “old enough to be Olivia Wilde’s dad.” Or, in this case, love interest.
It’s not unbelievable, people. It’s magic.
Read more reviews by George Wolf.