Ed Burns secures himself a place as Hollywood’s top B-movie actor with an excruciatingly dull remake of a Japanese horror movie that, like every other American attempt at translating the genre, fails from the start. Burns plays Jack Andrews, a hunky detective in a nondescript college town where psychology student Beth (played by non-actress Shannyn Sossamon) witnesses her circle of friends dying in freak accidents after receiving cell phone calls foreshadowing their last words and screams before each violent event actually occurs.
In keeping with the predictable demands of modern Japanese horror, a troubled little girl is responsible for the deadly phenomenon that gives the picture its numerous body count. Director Eric Valette’s fumbling with atmosphere, suspense and surprise further detracts from an already nonsensical script that redoubles the axiom about cell phones being an off-limits movie subjects.
The best scene comes early on when a young woman puts down her cell phone and enjoys the backyard view from her Japanese styled patio overlooking a murky pond where her exotic cat studies the goldfish swimming below. A moldy hand reaches out and snatches the kitty before grabbing the girl with a fast twitch speed that induces a gulp for its striking efficiency. We’re perfectly set up to spend the next hour discovering the identity of a water-breathing swamp killer, but instead the story slips around like a fawn trying to stand up on an oily floor.
Unexplained hallucinations of ghoulish characters, both life-sized and miniature, with bone white skin and mouths-for-eyes creep into view like puppet rejects from a disused Tim Burton movie. There’s some satisfaction to be had in the death of one of Beth’s obnoxious male friends as we wait for him to repeat his last words before being impaled. Sad then that his is the most developed character the script posits before devolving into a third act tension-free chase scene and late death surprise that oddly comes as a relief rather than with any dread the filmmakers might have intended.
One Missed Call is not a movie that the Warner Brothers studio heads care if audiences see. It’s a throwaway picture meant to fill theater screen space for a week or two with by diverting audiences that might otherwise see something good like There Will Be Blood.
For audiences who have dutifully worked their way through the litany of great pre-Oscar movies like Atonement, Juno, Lars and the Real Girl and No Country For Old Men, January doesn’t promise much. Diane Lane’s upcoming thriller Untraceable looks like a solid horror/suspense bet and Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is required viewing as an insightful character and culture study set in Communist Romania that is pure cinema.
In the meantime, shabby movies like One Missed Call serve to make even mediocre achievements like Woody Allen’s January release Cassandra’s Dream seem competent. Perhaps One Missed Call won’t break even and Hollywood will learn its lesson about remaking Japanese horror movies. In any event, Ed Burns can still claim to have a career. MTW