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The Call

**

There's something cheerfully stupid about thrillers like The Call, wherein a protagonist who's seemingly as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes eventually becomes as dimwitted as Forrest Gump.

In this case, that would be Jordan Turner (Halle Berry), a 911 operator who blunders in an attempt to save a young girl (Evie Thompson) from a psychopath (Michael Eklund), thereby resulting in the child's abduction and murder. This incident still weighs heavily on Jordan six months later, when she takes another call from a teenage girl. Young Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) has been kidnapped by the same lunatic, and Jordan stays in constant contact with her via cell phone as she tries to figure out how Casey can be saved.

Missteps are kept to a minimum during the first hour of The Call, with the picture convincingly illustrating how a 911 call center might really function and honing in on Jordan's resourcefulness in thinking of ways that Casey might be able to alert others that she's trapped in a car trunk (the trick involving paint cans is a nice one). Eventually, though, the trio of scripters run out of ways to keep the narrative fresh and revert to tired genre conventions. The psychopath is provided some back story that comes off as forced, unconvincing and just a bit silly. The uniqueness of what's basically a two-piece set (the 911 center and the car) gets jettisoned for the sort of underground lair that's in the budget of all cinematic serial killers.

And because she's the top-billed star, Berry can't just be a hero from a chair, so the movie finds a contrived way for her character to get in on the action -- and then calls on her to make some dumb decisions. It's all part of a last act that's only slightly less frustrating than a constant busy signal.

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