If ever there was a film to make one dislike cell phones this is it. And if there was ever a film to inspire the end of American remakes of Japanese horror films this is it too. A group of people start receiving eerie phone calls from their future selves--calls that specify the exact time and date when they are to die. Before they do however they begin experiencing dire hallucinations of ghostly figures. College student Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) whose circle of friends is rapidly being depleted as a result of these phone calls teams up with Jack Andrews (Edward Burns) absolutely the only homicide detective in the city who seems concerned that there’s a series of fatal accidents occurring with rapid regularity. But then again his own sister was one of the first to die. Somehow it all ties in to a tragic fire at a local hospital and even further back than that an incidence of child abuse that eventually had fatal consequences. This film is in no way prepared to deal with the abuse theme in any meaningful way making this story angle more than a little uncomfortable. With time running out Beth attempts to piece together the circumstances that has put her and her friends in jeopardy. The time can’t run out soon enough.
The perennially underwhelming Sossamon gives another flatline performance here and Burns--who seems awfully indiscriminate when it comes to choosing roles in the movies he doesn’t write or direct--seems to merely be going through the motions. Azura Skye Meagan Good and Johnny Lewis (recently seen in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) are only briefly on hand as victims of the fatal phone calls and Margaret Cho turns up as Burns’ partner who repeatedly pooh-poohs his worries even as the body count is rising. Some of these people ought to give their agents a call. Only Ray Wise in a throwaway role as the host of a supernatural-themed tabloid talk-show has any fun here--and his character could have easily been excised from the proceedings entirely.
Noted young French horror director Eric Valette has made the sort of English-language feature debut that will be very easy to improve on. Except for a few skewed camera angles some false scares that are telegraphed well in advance and random shots of giant centipedes (oooh--creepy!) this is an utterly uninspired endeavor. Even the low-angle shots of cell phones lose their menacing quality very quickly. Valette isn’t alone in his culpability; screenwriter Andrew Klavan--who once wrote a smashing black comedy called A Shock to the System (which unfortunately nobody saw)--equals Valette with dialogue and situations that defy even simple logic. The characters say and do dumb things so why should an audience care what happen to them? Indeed you don’t. Thanks to horror fans this may make a quick New Year’s buck at the box office but will soon be relegated deservedly so to video shelves where it can gather the dust it richly deserves.
The plot starts off exciting enough: a motley group steals a rare gem but two of the thieves doublecross bad guy Patrick (Sean Bean) and take off with the precious stone. Jumping ahead 10 years we meet Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) a prominent New York psychiatrist with a loving wife (Famke Janssen) and an adorable 8-year-old daughter (Skye McCole Bartusiak). Life is good until Nathan is summoned by a colleague (Oliver Platt) to examine a disturbed young woman Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy). The next day he discovers the ruthless Patrick has kidnapped his daughter. The only way to get her back is to extract a six-digit number locked away in Elisabeth's troubled mind a number leading to the gem. But then the film lapses into the predictable: Nathan races to save his daughter and try to solve the puzzle of the traumatic event which sent Elisabeth off into la-la land.
Douglas certainly has had plenty of moments to shine in his career but this isn't one of them. He plays it pretty straight and boring leaving nothing to let him stretch his acting abilities. Following along the same lines Bean another fine actor who rarely gets to break out of the bad guy role plays a cookie-cutter villain with nothing more than his menacing looks and voice to keep him going. Murphy's performance as the complex Elisabeth has been talked about as Oscar bait-but we are not sure why. What starts off as an intriguing portrayal of yet another mentally disturbed character--her other being her role in Girl Interrupted which was much more interesting--dissolves into a lost-little-girl syndrome. Actually the two characters that stand out are Bartusiak as the spunky daughter and Jennifer Esposito (Summer of Sam) as a detective hot on the jewel thieves' trail.
Word starts off with such a bang you immediately get involved and think it may actually be a good movie. Director Gary Felder takes us right into Conrad's happy world and then turns it upside down when Conrad realizes what he must do to get his daughter back. It may be hard to believe Patrick after spending the last 10 years in jail would know that Elisabeth holds the key to finding the gem but the cat-and-mouse game Elisabeth plays with Dr. Conrad is fascinating. This plot device could have been taken into so many different directions especially since Douglas and Murphy have a very interesting rapport. Even the subplot involving the little girl and her attempts to escape while her mother with a broken leg tries desperately to find her could have been taken further. But the film goes ahead and ends predictably and we're left saying how much better we could have made it.