When A Stranger Calls review, When A Stranger Calls DVD review

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Buy your copy from Amazon.com When A Stranger Calls (2006) half starno starno starno starno star Starring: Camilla Belle, John Bobeck, Tommy Flanagan
Director: Simon West
Rating: PG-13
Category: Suspense

Ah, the dreaded Thursday night screening. That alone tells you that the studio knows that they’re sitting on a turkey (case in point: our last Thursday screening was “Aeon Flux”; so was “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo”), since they timed the screening just late enough to prevent print outlets from telling the world how much their movie sucked ass.

Luckily for us – and more importantly, luckily for you, our beloved readers – we are not print media, and I am here to tell you that the needless remake of “When a Stranger Calls,” indeed, sucks ass. The most astonishing part is that for an 83-minute movie, it has more padding than a mattress factory. There are long stretches of time where nothing happens. In the age of caller ID, *69, and cell phones, just how far did they think they could take the whole telephone terrorism thing? A better question might be: how dumb do they think the moviegoing public is? Incredibly dumb, if this movie is any indication.

Camilla Belle (the textbook definition of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”) stars as Jill Johnson, a girl who is grounded for going way, way over her cell phone limit (that might be the most clever thing about the movie), and is grounded. To make some of the money back she cost her parents, she takes a last minute babysitting job for a filthy rich couple with a house on a lake. The house is one of those only-in-the-movies slices of decadent splendor, where the lights turn on automatically as you walk into a room, and there is an enclosed aviary inside the house, complete with a fish pond. Jill is impressed.

But soon after settling in, she receives a series of phone calls from a mysterious breather. She assumes it’s her friends or soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, but their cell phones aren’t working from the school bonfire all of her friends are attending. Since the breather hasn’t threatened her, the police cannot do anything to help her, outside of offer to trace the call if he stays on the line for more than a minute. Eventually, she’s able to keep him on the line and, shocker, he’s inside the house. Well, on the plus side, that tidbit of information will prevent her from walking around the house saying, “Hello? Rosa? Hello? Rosa?” (Rosa is the housekeeper. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out why she doesn’t answer Jill’s cries.)

Name a horror movie cliché, and odds are it’s here. The startling, “boo” noises in the soundtrack, even for things as little as a small bird flapping its wings. The slo-mo phone drop. The weather suddenly turning windy and rainy when it gets dark, even though it’s perfectly calm at the bonfire. A freaking cat tripping all of the automatic lights, fer crissakes. One of Jill’s friends visits her at the house, and drops her keys as she’s getting into her car, which land underneath the car…after falling on dirt. And then her car won’t start. And then there’s a branch blocking the exit. Ye gods.

Simon West was never a great director – his best movie, best movie, was “Con Air,” the mother of all guilty pleasures – but if this is the best gig he can get, he should consider resigning from the DGA. It’s not that he does a horrible job with the proceedings (like a typical Bruckheimer clone, it all looks great, but he doesn’t get a good performance out of a single actor); still, it’s clear that no one trusts him anymore, and he’s almost 10 years past the point of leaving anyone wanting more. The one good thing in “When a Stranger Calls” – pardon my chauvinism, but after seeing this movie so the rest of you don’t have to, I think I’ve earned it – is the shockingly rockin’ bod of onetime child actress Camilla Belle. Jessica Alba, watch your back.

A popular mantra in the BE camp of late with regard to movies has been “Welcome to the Suck,” the tag line from “Jarhead.” Indeed, six of the movies we’ve seen in 2006 have received two stars or less, and five of those six actually received one star or less. “When a Stranger Calls,” quite simply, is Worst Movies of the Year bad. If you must be thrilled by a menacing phone caller, watch the first 20 minutes of “Scream”; it accomplishes the same goal, far more effectively, in a fraction of the time.

DVD Features:
The single-disc release two audio commentaires (one by the director and cast, the other by the film's writer), a handful of deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

~David Medsker

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