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Call, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Busy Signal"
2 stars

Lacking humor and wit, it's highly disposable.

That deftly dynamic character actor Tobin Bell has been steadily working in both movies and television for forty-one years, and almost every time I've seen him he's played a villain. Fairly tall with a high forehead and beady little eyes you wouldn't dare to stare into in fear your blood would curdle and turn to ice, he's always been quite the formidable presence without ever resorting to two-fisted machismo or cheap eye-bulging to convey genuine menace; he's preferred an understated approach that's both vivid and dexterous in that you just never know what in the world his characters are going to do next - in other words, he's that superlative actor who keeps you guessing and is simply incapable of being boring. He has several direct-to-video efforts in his filmography, but he's appeared in some major Hollywood releases, and in 1993 he made indelible impressions as the serial killer in Malice, the hit man in The Firm, the counterfeiter in In the Line of Fire, where he more than held his own opposite first-rate talents Bill Pullman and Gary Busey and Clint Eastwood. He's mostly been doing TV as of late, so it's good to see him on the big screen again and in a juicy part in the horror picture The Call, spookily playing bereaved widower Edward Cranston who gets together the four high-school students he holds responsible for his longtime wife's recent suicide in his malevolent mansion and makes them an offer they can't refuse: either abide by his late wife's will that will pay them one-hundred-thousand dollars to simply go upstairs one by one, dial the number on a notepad next to an old rotary phone, and supposedly speak to the supposedly dead Edith, and then step outside the house afterward, at which point the next teenager goes upstairs and repeats the process; if not he'll go to the police the next day and report the suicide was brought on by the relentless harassing of Edith with the smashing of her windows and other pranks led by the lone female of the quartet, Tonya, who still believes Edith was responsible for her younger sister's disappearance from the daycare Edith used to operate in the mansion until it was closed down because of this. Edward sits them down in his living room and calmly and collectively lays out the deal, and it's a wonderful opportunity to watch a gifted thespian like Bell strut his considerable stuff; in a long monologue, with power of inflection and phrase, Bell, with expert pace and control, delivers each and every line stunningly - he's so fascinating and magnetic it's disappointing when the four inadequate teen actors take over because they can't hold a candle to any one line of Bell's. (I think in this one scene Bell speaks more than he has in any of his other movies in their entirety.) And it's doubly disappointing in that The Call is a good-looking but unsuccessful entry in the genre. Basically what the story comes down to is each teen transported from the phone call to a dark part of their past that still torments their psychs, ranging from an abusive father to a fatal auto accident of a pregnant girlfriend to Tonya's still-missing sister, but despite the occasional arresting image (I particularly liked the deep-orange color gels applied to a windshield during a thunderstorm, with the drops resembling molten lava right from the depths of Hell) the director, Timothy Woodward Jr., doesn't get enough suspense and atmosphere going, and relies on tired "Boo!" moments substituting for deftly engineered scares. Granted, The Call should be given a wee bit of credit because it semi-admirably tries something different, but it's largely ineffective due to the schematic writing and lackluster execution, though it does score a point or two for pulling a decent whodunit unveiling at the end. Still, there's the stalwart Tobin Bell who's both a merit and demerit to the proceedings: he gives a galvanizing performance that the rest of the movie can't possibly measure up to. Due to his immense talent he inadvertently sets the bar too darn high.

For some odd reason it takes place in the year 1987, and I'm still trying to figure out why.

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originally posted: 10/03/20 07:58:27
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  02-Oct-2020 (R)



Directed by
  Timothy Woodward Jr.

Written by
  Patrick Stibbs

  Lin Shaye
  Tobin Bell
  Chester Rushing
  Erin Sanders
  Mike Manning

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