The Operator

An arrogant attorney gets taken down a few pegs in this briskly paced psychological thriller with a moral. Dallas legal eagle Gary Wheelan (Michael Laurence) is a smug sleaze in an expensive suit who cheats on his loving wife, Janice (Christa Miller, of TV's Drew Carey Show), gambles compulsively and heaps abuse on paralegals, assistants and anyone else...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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An arrogant attorney gets taken down a few pegs in this briskly paced psychological thriller with a moral. Dallas legal eagle Gary Wheelan (Michael Laurence) is a smug sleaze in an expensive suit who cheats on his loving wife, Janice (Christa Miller, of TV's Drew Carey Show), gambles compulsively and heaps abuse on paralegals, assistants and anyone else who isn't in a position to fight back. And then there's the matter of Vernon Woods (Brion James, who died shortly after finishing work on this film), whom he's defending even though he knows damned well Woods is a bigoted, unrepentant con man who swindled scores of locals out of their life savings and hid the money in an offshore bank account. Wheelan is a man in sore need of a comeuppance, and it arrives in an unlikely form. One morning, the short-tempered Wheelan takes out his self-centered frustrations on a hapless directory-assistance operator (Jacqueline Kim) in an explosion of foul language and vulgar suggestions. Little does he realize that her access to his conversations and electronic data put her in an excellent position to mess with his life. But he learns — oh, does he learn. Calling herself Shiva — the Hindu god of destruction and transformation — the operator systematically ruins his credit rating, reveals his infidelities, charges phone sex services to his office line and, posing as his assistant, suggests to a frustrated client that Wheelan could be persuaded to have an inconvenient relative "taken care of" once and for all. Next thing Wheelan knows, Janice has thrown him out, his new car has been repossessed, he's in deep trouble with his philosophical bookie (Stephen Tobolowsky) and his boss thinks he's running a murder-for-hire operation on the side. The question is, what does the vindictive operator really want from Wheelan? Writer-director-producer Jon Dichter's feature-film debut is a minor triumph of determination over budgetary limitations: Though clearly shot on a shoestring, it's handsome, tightly written and generally well acted. Granted, Laurence isn't quite up to his character's emotional roller-coaster ride, but he's on the money more often than he's off. And if Dichter's efforts to parlay the operator's personal crusade into something metaphysical (via her self-imposed nickname and shots of buddhas, prayer beads and the like), they're still evidence of a filmmaker with more on his mind than strip-club scenes and blowing stuff up.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: An arrogant attorney gets taken down a few pegs in this briskly paced psychological thriller with a moral. Dallas legal eagle Gary Wheelan (Michael Laurence) is a smug sleaze in an expensive suit who cheats on his loving wife, Janice (Christa Miller, of TV… (more)

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