The Call screened after WW press deadlines, prolonging AP Kryza's wait for 95 minutes of Halle Berry in a silly-looking wig (Kryza was big on wigs this week). Was it worth it? Meh.

Critic's Grade: C-

The Call

But here's the thing: As far as pulpy, shticky, slimy, manipulative and bombastic films go, The Call is actually a pretty slick slice of genre filmmaking. Until it's not. And that's the real problem: For a while, The Call is a good film. It's taut and tense. There's a sense of real peril and risk that jabs at your heart and makes your teeth grind. Then, just as it brings all its nifty tricks and narrative suckerpunches to a climax, it becomes the worst kind of terrible: the predictable, sleazy torture porn-kind of horrible.

But for the first hour, it's electric: an amped-up procedural that sees Berry as Jordan, a top-notch Los Angeles 911 operator jarred into a catatonic state of failure when she inadvertently helps a murderer capture and kill a young girl. Relegated to training new recruits in the art of disconnecting emotions from callers in distress—something she can never do—Jordan springs back into action when she's forced to take a call from a teenager (Little Miss Sunshine's Abagail Breslin) who has been abducted, tossed in a trunk and ushered off to an uncertain fate.

At the film's core is a compelling story of using minimal means to save a child. Breslin makes her calls on an untraceable, disposable phone. She's in a dark trunk. She's completely unhinged. So the film stays focused on the problem at hand, with the stalwart operator figuring out ways for the child to be discovered. It's at once frustrating and breathless, and alarmingly real in the ways each seemingly logical plan heightens the immediacy of the situation.

Then logic itself totally leaves the equation just as things become interesting. What begins as a focused, if slightly trashy, exercise in minimalist filmmaking spirals into standard horror fare when Breslin and her kidnapper arrive at the villain's creepy murder den, where he goes straight-up Bates. In the torture chamber, Brad Anderson's camera ogles a creepily sexualized, bra-sporting Breslin. It's also at this point that Berry decides she's had enough of doing her job and stupidly goes sleuthing for the victim….naturally, without any means of protecting herself.

What's most frustrating here is that Anderson has taken a great—if sloppily executed—potboiler of a premise and boiled it down into the basest, ickiest, most contrived and most idiotic revenge fantasy imaginable. Berry and Breslin, for some reason, give it their all, but it's almost sad to see such fine performances undercut by a narrative that feels the need to pander to moronic urges. The film's slickness elevates it above standard exploitation fare, but then it falls victim to the very traps it seems initially to tower above.