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'The Call' review: Cliched romp

"The Call" is a suspense thriller directed by

"The Call" is a suspense thriller directed by Brad Anderson about a veteran 911 operator (Halle Berry), shown here, who takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted. (2012) Credit: Greg Gayne

What would happen if you mixed "Phone Booth" and "The Silence of the Lambs" with a Tyler Perry movie? The results could be a lot worse but no weirder than "The Call," a slightly whacked-out thriller about a Los Angeles 911 operator (Halle Berry) trying to save an abducted teen. Switching genres at random, avoiding all logic and barreling straight into every cliche, the movie is so completely unembarrassed by itself that it's actually quite entertaining -- sometimes even on purpose.

The Oscar-winning Berry lends some gravitas to Jordan, an emergency call center staffer wracked with guilt after accidentally sending one young caller to that big voice mail in the sky. Six months later, Jordan takes a call from teenage Casey (Abigail Breslin, taking some major abuse), who is stuffed in the trunk of someone's car. The driver is obviously a sadist -- he's blaring Taco's 1983 hit "Puttin' on the Ritz" -- and we sense that he and Jordan have met before.

This fellow, Michael (Michael Eklund), turns out to be such a bumbler that he becomes our comic relief. Left unchecked on his Kill-a-Girl list: rope, tape, weapon, search teen victim for smartphone. As the freely wriggling Casey repeatedly wrecks his plans (she actually waves to stunned passersby), Michael's woebegone "why me?" expressions become increasingly priceless.

Director and co-writer Richard D'Ovidio keeps things moving, and he sticks to his gonzo vision even when it's someone else's. "The Call" blithely rips off "Psycho," "Saw" and even the rock-fueled "Reservoir Dogs" (though Culture Club is no Stealers Wheel). It also seems to be courting Tyler Perry's demographic by giving prominent roles, mainly cops and 911 operators, to black and Hispanic actors (Morris Chestnut plays Jordan's police-officer beau).

"The Call" isn't making any grand statements, though. It just wants to keep you on the line for 90 minutes, and darned if it doesn't succeed.

PLOT A 911 operator takes a personal interest in an abducted girl's distress call.


CAST Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut


BOTTOM LINE Cheap thrills, weird ideas and some inadvertent laughs make this B-movie more entertaining than you, or it, might have expected.

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