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Actresses Go Slumming in ‘The Call’

Here’s a safety tip: Next time you’re kidnapped from a mall, thrown into the trunk of a car, and driven off to who-knows-where, make sure you get Halle Berry’s desk when you call 911 on the cellphone you’ve got hidden in your back pocket.

She will find you. You’ll be OK.

In The Call, a sordid slice of abduction porn with a psycho villain whose M.O. takes more than a few pages from The Silence of the Lambs, Berry stars as LAPD emergency-call operator Jordan Turner, a cool veteran who has been shaken up of late because she blames herself for losing a teenage victim to a killer.

Now, another girl, 16-year-old Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), is on the line. And Jordan, who teaches new recruits not to get emotionally involved with their callers, not to make them promises, gets so involved with Casey and makes so many promises that, well, if you think Berry is just going to sit at her bank of computer screens and let her police officer boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) handle this, then you need to call 911 yourself and tell the operator you’ve lost your mind.

Directed by Brad Anderson, the indie director who encouraged Christian Bale to shed half his body weight for the nutso thriller The Machinist, The Call is doubly contemptible. Using a toolbox of horror- and stalker-pic tricks (the near escapes, the dropped phone, the subterranean lair) and a couple of actresses who give the material far more respect, and conviction, than it warrants, the film is at once shamelessly transparent, manipulative, and far-fetched, and impossibly suspenseful. You’ll want to take a shower afterward — that’s how icky you’ll feel.

Berry brings her usual focus and feist to this business (not to mention her beauty — but what’s with that curly coif?). And Breslin, who made her screen debut as a precocious pip-squeak in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs and starred in the title role of the hit Little Miss Sunshine, displays a wide range of shrieks, squeals, yelps, sobs, desperate entreaties and startled stares — many of which she delivers trembling in a bra.

As for Michael Eklund, the actor who plays Casey’s twisted tormentor, and who gets a sad and sick backstory to explain his motivation, The Call is probably not something he’s going to want to put on his clip reel.

Unless he’s got a keen interest in playing nervous psychopaths for the rest of his career.

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THE CALL

2 stars

Directed by Brad Anderson.

With Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Michael Eklund, and Morris Chestnut. Distributed by Screen Gems/Sony.

Running time: 1 hour, 34 mins.

Parent’s guide: R (violence, profanity, adult themes).

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