Saturday, May 06, 2006

When a Stranger Calls

Thank you for calling 1-800-SOS. For Russian, press 1. For Mandarin, press 2. For Arabic, press 3....

When a Stranger Calls belongs to the group of this year's remakes, with movies like Poseidon just over the horizon. Director Simon West (Con Air) helms this updated version, with plenty of relative unknown casts, which signals either the death rate is high (it isn't), or that established stars are steering clear from a potential turkey.

Clocking in at a relatively short 87 minutes, it's primarily made up of two acts. The first, which takes a full one hour, is the setup. Our heroine, Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), chalked up 800 minutes of talk time on her mobile phone (do the math), and as a lesson in responsibility, her parents had confiscated her mobile and grounded her. To pay off her debt, she works part time as a babysitter, and looking after the wealthy Mandrakis' kids, is her first stint.

The huge Mandrakis mansion gets a full tour treatment, as it is where all the action will take place. Plenty of rooms (makes for good hiding), an indoor pool sized aquarium-pond (to get wet in, for the wet T-shirt treatment), and check this out - motion detector lights, which you just know will contribute to the scares with the manipulation of lights and shadows. Naturally, prank calls, red herrings are aplenty, which chalks up this act's runtime, but most of them fall flat in the suspense department.

There's a minor trend emerging, with actors being the unseen, providing and acting through their voice instead. Recent attempts include Edward Norton in Kingdom of Heaven, and Hugo Weaving's V for Vendetta. Here, Lance Henriksen does the honours for the anonymous, nameless psychotic killer, but it just falls flat. Why? The script doesn't give him much dialogue. Most of the phone calls made were of the silent (mind-masturbatory) nature, which I felt was a waste - they could have also casted some unknown instead, and the job will still get done.

The second act, where the main action takes place, is too little too late. And the bogeyman, well, is purely a bogeyman with no name, no history, just air-dropped into the movie. Those expecting blood and gore will be disappointed, as basically it's a one -woman show to hold your attention in the first hour (eye candies always succeed), and this act will have her resolve everything in double quick time, ala Rachel McAdams in Red Eye. Don't expect any form of character development, nor subplots that will engage.

The ending tried to be too smart for its own good, and came across as a cheap way to end the movie. There's not much of goodness to highlight from this movie - no scares, no thrills, no enigmatic villain, and plenty of security flaws, especially with that door alarm - the only thing it's good for, is to provide a number for 4D.

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