Here’s a fun party game I made up: It’s called How Would This Movie Have Ended If Cellphones Had Existed? You can play it with nearly every film ever made, because the proliferation of mobile devices is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Take Jaws. Quint smashes the Orca’s radio so Brody can’t call for a bigger boat, potentially dooming everybody onboard. If cellphones had existed, Hooper could have slipped into the can to text the Coast Guard, and the good folks of Amity, flush with tourist dollars, might’ve made him their next mayor.
Or The Godfather. Remember the scene (spoiler alert!) where Sonny’s about to drive into that tollbooth ambush, and his troops hit the road in a high-speed attempt to stop him? They never would have massacred Vito’s boy if the Corleones had signed up for Verizon’s Friends & Family plan.
In Rear Window, when Grace Kelly sneaks into Raymond Burr’s apartment while James Stewart watches from across the courtyard, a cell would have come in handy to warn her the creep had returned and was about to walk in on her. Imagine how much grief Richard Dreyfuss’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind character might have been spared if he’d been able to do a search on that funny-looking mountain instead of making mashed-potato models until he came across it on TV. Dustin Hoffman could have just called Katharine Ross at the end of The Graduate instead of racing from one end of Los Angeles to the other. And, more recently, all that stood between those walking wolfburgers and a Disney ending in The Grey was a cell tower.
I could play all day, but I should probably address Halle Berry’s latest professional faux pas, whose gimmicky plot hinges on cellphone use. A former beauty contestant and model, Berry parlayed her cheekbones into an acting career. But over the years she has displayed spectacularly crappy instincts when it comes to choosing parts. It’s possible she’s made more duds than any other Oscar winner in history.
Berry turned down the starring role in Speed but signed on the dotted line for The Flintstones, Strictly Business, B*A*P*S, Swordfish, Gothika and Catwoman — which, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 9 percent, isn’t even the lowest-rated in her oeuvre. New Year’s Eve earned a 7 percent, Movie 43 a 4 percent and Father Hood and Dark Tide a combined 0 percent! My guess is Berry’s (Oscar-winning) participation in Monster’s Ball was the result of a paperwork mix-up.
The Call is about par for the course for Berry. As directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist) from a script by Richard D’Ovidio, it takes us into the high-stakes world of an LA 911 operator whose resourcefulness is tested when a terrified young woman (Abigail Breslin) phones from the trunk of a serial killer who’s just kidnapped her.
The good news? The first half is edge-of-your-seat material. D’Ovidio was on to something. Seldom explored on film, the emergency-call-center milieu proves instantly immersive. Someone could craft a classic crime thriller from the elements of this movie. Someone other than Anderson and D’Ovidio.
The bad news: The second half squanders everything fresh and intriguing about the first. Imagine the most meatheaded series of developments a Hollywood hack could concoct, dumb it down by a factor of 10, and you’re still giving this picture more credit than it deserves.
Movie-critic law prohibits me from getting into specifics, but let’s just say that screen psychos have seldom been dashed off as lazily as in this film. Berry’s dispatcher doesn’t make out much better. Breslin makes the leap from Little Miss Goofball to scream teen seamlessly, but there isn’t much else in this once-promising director’s “cell”-out to make it worth your time to take this call.
* Running time: 94 min.
* Rated: R