Tension is high in “The Call”

There was a reason to be apprehensive about “The Call” as the opening credits rolled. When it came to “story by,” three writers were listed, although the screenplay was done by only one of them. Usually, multiple writers on a story/screenplay add up to trouble.

Those three writers, however, along with director Brad Anderson, came up with a fast-moving and tense thriller. Anderson, who has directed some episodes of “Fringe ,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Treme,” does not waste time in getting things going and never lets up.

The story, credited to Richard D’Ovidio, Nicole D’Ovidio and Jon Bokenkamp, uses a familiar element that could be called The Maverick Syndrome — seen in the high-profile Tom Cruise-starrer “Top Gun.” This is where a person who is very skilled in his or her profession, almost to the point of cockiness, is involved in a tragedy in which this person may be partially to blame. There follows an erosion of confidence, withdrawal and self-pity (it looks from the trailers that this plot device also is being used in the upcoming “Olympus Has Fallen”) until circumstances force this person to set aside the doubts and embark on a path to redemption.

In “The Call,” it is Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) who is thrown into this fray. Jordan is a 911 operator for the Los Angeles Police Department, known for being cool under pressure with an ability to calm panicked callers and pass off the calls to first-responders and not dwell upon what happens. But one day when a teen girl calls to report someone is breaking into her home, a lapse of judgment by Jordan contributes to the girl’s abduction and subsequent brutal murder, believed to be perpetrated by a serial killer.

Jordan, who is romantically involved with an LAPD officer, Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut), is shaken to the core, and when the story jumps ahead six months, Jordan now is a teacher for pending 911 operators, having given up her seat at the communications console.

But one fateful day another teen girl, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin from “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Zombieland”) is abducted at a mall. Stuffed in a trunk and armed only with a disposable cell phone, which has no GPS chip, Casey calls 911.  When the new young operator, Brooke (Jenna Lamia) gets flustered, Jordan has to take over.

Thus follows a nail-biting race against time as Jordan tries to calm Casey down and get her to do things — like kick out one of the taillights — to help police track down the vehicle. Of course, some things work out and others do not, raising the tension. When Jordan gets a chance to talk to the abductor, he delivers a familiar phrase that reveals he is the serial killer she dealt with six months earlier.

Michael Eklund, who played Nick Ducet in the TV series “Shattered,” plays to abductor, Michael Foster, one of those scary characters whose life seems to be the kind of domestic normalcy that keeps him under the radar. The screenplay offers vague clues as to why he is abducting teens — it apparently involved a tragedy that claimed an older sister he appeared to have worshiped.

While police remain a few steps behind in the pursuit of Foster, it is Jordan who discovers a critical clue to the man’s whereabouts, leading to the final confrontation.

Berry is superb as Jordan, a woman who loses a grip but is forced to set aside her anxieties when another person’s life is at stake. Breslin spends most of the movie captive in the trunk of vehicles as Foster switches cars. She mostly wails in terror and has to be prodded verbally by Jordan to regain composure and do whatever is necessary to save her life. Foster, whose character remains mostly a mystery, has a look about him wherein he can seem normal but at a second appraisal can appear to be a little off.

“The Call” is a pleasant surprise, lifted by likable portrayals put together by Berry and Breslin. Viewers truly care about these two and the peril they face raises the tension.

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