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'The Call' can't hang on for thrilling finish

Posted 3:22pm on Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013

R (violence, disturbing content, some strong language); 90 min.

Rare is the thriller that goes as completely and utterly wrong as The Call does at almost precisely the one-hour mark. Which is a crying shame, because for an hour, this is a riveting thriller.

Brad Anderson (Transsiberian, The Machinist) turns this novel procedural, a serial killer hunt set inside L.A.'s 911 Call Center, into a real edge-of-your-seat thriller. Given Halle Berry, as a veteran 911 operator whose mistake months ago haunts her; Abigail Breslin, as a kidnapped teen on the cellphone from a darkened car trunk; and a half-decent tale of horror, guilt, problem solving and redemption, Anderson couldn't go far wrong.

Until he, and the movie, do.

Berry's character, Jordan, is the daughter of a cop, dating another cop (Morris Chestnut). Now, on an afternoon when she's walking recruits through training, explaining the technology to them (and to the audience), a girl is grabbed. This one has a phone and she's calling from the car trunk. Breslin ( Little Miss Sunshine) makes us feel her terror, mainly in her voice.

The Call lets us reason along with the operator and the caller, figuring out options. Anderson teases out solutions, tempts us with bystander help and shows how the system can work in a case like this -- linking calls, triangulating cellphone signals (not easy with a disposable phone), dispatching cops, trying to beat the clock that they're racing against.

It's only when the story needs to string out its finale that the film goes wrong, only when our Oscar-winning heroine puts down the phone and sets out to do some sleuthing of her own that The Call disconnects, turning into something far more generic, far more routine and far less exciting.

-- Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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