AT THE MOVIES -'The Call' gives mild thrills, but feels 'made-for-TV'

AT THE MOVIES -'The Call' gives mild thrills, but feels 'made-for-TV'

** 1/2 "The Call"

Plunging Hollywood's early season further into the depths of mediocrity (summer can't come soon enough!), Brad Anderson's "The Call" is a slickly shot thriller with paint-by-numbers passivity. Comparable to Denzel Washington's decade-old roster of moderately watchable but instantly forgettable pulse-pounders, Anderson's "Taken"-esque cat-and-mouse chase is perfect padding for an afternoon on the couch, yet fails to ignite the big screen. Ageless Oscar winner Halle Berry takes command of the tepid lead role, poodle wig and all, regardless of her talent and tenure, and like Washington, she is effortlessly entertaining, despite a script begging for a C-list star. Still, thrill-seekers could do worse, as our adept director and magnetic lead succeed in ensuring that "The Call" doesn't drop too far below awful.

Berry stars as Jordan, an unflappable 911 operator in Los Angeles with a sole miscalculation in her career: redialing a victim of an intruder. After the victim's ringing phone leads the intruder to her whereabouts and the young girl ends up dead, Jordan takes a voluntary demotion and begins a new career training operators instead of manning the phones. Wouldn't you know, our heroine happens to intercept a call involving a similar scenario to the one that caused her previous distress: a teenage girl ("Little Miss Sunshine's" Abigail Breslin) dials 911 from the trunk of a car, a victim of a kidnapping. The girl is talked through her ordeal by Jordan, determined to right her previous wrong, and so flows the twisty-turny chase, peppered with violence and wrapped up with a twinge of inexplicability involving a serial killer with a sordid past. It's your typical Sunday afternoon fare. Sans the commercials, of course.

Berry's been in sorrier drivel before. It seems like only yesterday she was making guacamole with her mammaries in "Movie 43," but here, her confidence is evenly weighed by her director, who doesn't have a lot of experience in dreck. Anderson, of "The Machinist" and several episodes of "The Wire," is no stranger to staging moody intensity, taking advantage of low lighting and quick cuts to the best of his ability. But isn't that the nature of a thriller, anyway - keep the camera moving and the backdrop interesting even as the narrative flounders. And does it ever, with a flat-lined final act reveal and comeuppance unworthy of its strong female leads.

An unfulfilling ending aside, Berry and Breslin work well together, and it's nice to see two women work to defeat a male captor for once. Much better than Liam Neeson teaching his frantic daughter how to read a map.

"The Call" was produced by WWE Studios and boy does that say a lot, as the movie seems like a ruse of reality, showy and stilted. There are some good ideas at play here, akin to the questions asked on ABC's "What Would You Do?," but essentially, this is a story about a woman attempting to clear her conscience and outwit a murderer, straight and simple as pie.

Berry's Jordan doesn't have much going for her in the way of charisma, despite her moral obstacles and handsome cop suitor (Morris Chestnut, on speed dial whenever a movie calls for someone Strong, Sexy, and Soothing - I accept). Her plight never elevates the story, it merely drives it, and as the script lumbers from one obstacle to the next, it never reaches the full potential of a tale devoted to a rarely profiled sect of emergency workers. 911 operators might have to wait a few more years for a better cinematic examination, and Halle Berry might be a few years away from her own "Flight"-invite back to the Academy Awards.

If audiences don't want to wait for a more intelligent thriller, "The Call" will sadly suffice.

Now playing at CinemaWorld, Lincoln, 622 George Washington Highway, 401-333-8676, www.cinemaworldonline.com .