The only thing that distinguishes this thriller from so many others is its homosexual subtheme. Unfortunately, THE PHONE CALL's screenplay by Donald Martin is too ambiguous.
Rejected by his mother and friends, psychotic ex-convict Carey Porter (Ron Lea) gets the only job he can find: talking dirty to gay men at a male phone-sex hotline. Meanwhile, computer salesman and family man Michael Henderson (Michael Sarrazin) listens to a female phone-sex operator at the
urging of an obnoxious co-worker, Ben (Vlasta Vrana). Michael laughs off the experience, but secretly calls the line again during a business convention. Instead of reaching a woman, however, Michael accidentally contacts Carey. The two have a seductive conversation before Michael realizes his
mistake. He calls Carey "sick" and hangs up.
Enraged over the insult, Carey hunts down Michael for an apology. When Carey doesn't get satisfaction from the salesman, he ruins his life, phoning him at work and home, vandalizing his property, and befriending his wife Joanna (Linda Smith) and daughter Holly (Lisa Jakub) to humiliate his prey.
Not wanting to admit that he phoned a sex line, Michael hides the truth from his wife until Carey kidnaps his daughter.
THE PHONE CALL plays out the ever-popular "psycho terrorizes family" plot with little innovation. As usual, the hero's incredibly stupid actions make it possible for the villain to take advantage of him. All Michael has to do is level with his wife. But then there would be no movie. Although
Michael insists that he's not gay, Carey's obsession does seem to have a sexual component. A more honest screenplay would have allowed Michael to raise the homosexual conflict with Carey. A scene in which Carey kisses Michael on the lips, for instance, cries out for elaboration. Does Carey merely
want to embarrass Michael in front of people or is he really attracted to him? Also unclear is Michael's motivation in initially calling the sex hotline. He's a man with a good job, wife and daughter. What draws him to the thrill of phoning a stranger for sexy talk? The audience never finds out.
The film's only saving grace is Lea's goofy performance as Carey. The perverse delight he takes in stalking Michael is humorous. Indeed, the character of Carey is constantly smiling, even after Michael beats him to a bloody pulp in one scene. Lea shows that Carey's clean-cut looks mask his true
evil. A cut on Carey's lower lip is his only outward ugliness. What Carey craves is any kind of attention, and Lea's acting brings this to the fore. Lea's velvety voice is also effective in the movie's many phone scenes. "I want you to be nice," Carey purrs to Michael. "That would be something new
for me." By contrast, Sarrazin, Smith and Jakub are only adequate in their parts.
Director Allan A. Goldstein is conventional in his approach; he doesn't create enough tension. Strangely for a film that emphasizes phone conversations, Goldstein's best scenes are silent. The sight of the Hendersons' cat hanging from the ceiling conveys Carey's menace without being gratuitous.
Another scene, in which Carey paints a message on Michael's fence, also works. The most vivid moment, however, shows Carey and Holly's success at convincing a school administrator that it's safe for her to go with him. Their soundless pantomime on the school steps says more than any dialogue.
But it's too little to save THE PHONE CALL from the routine. The ending degenerates into an interminable duel to the death between a knife-wielding Carey and bat-wielding Michael. After so many of these "psycho terrorizes family" stories, we should expect more. (Violence, sexual situations, adultsituations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: The only thing that distinguishes this thriller from so many others is its homosexual subtheme. Unfortunately, THE PHONE CALL's screenplay by Donald Martin is too ambiguous. Rejected by his mother and friends, psychotic ex-convict Carey Porter (Ron Lea)… (more)