This week’s new films reviewed

A scene from the film Diana
A scene from the film Diana

FILM OF THE WEEK

THE CALL (15, 94 mins) Thriller/Action.

Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, David Otunga, Michael Imperioli, Roma Maffia, Evie Thompson. Director: Brad Anderson.

Released: September 20 (UK & Ireland)

Notwithstanding a ridiculous final act that seemingly belongs to a different film, The Call is a slick, nail-biting thriller that propels us satisfyingly close to the edge of our seats.

Director Brad Anderson navigated emotionally richer terrain on the big screen in his earlier films, The Machinist and Transsiberian. However, recent stints behind the camera on TV series Boardwalk Empire, Alcatraz and The Killing serve him well here and he cranks up tension with aplomb. The middle section is genuinely exhilarating, ricocheting between emergency services and a kidnap victim, trapped in the claustrophobic boot of her abductor’s car.

Screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio takes a staple of the genre - an imperilled heroine, who loses her clothes for no compelling reason - as the seed for his sadistic game of cat and mouse between a 911 call centre operator and a serial killer with a penchant for blonde girls.

In a tense opening sequence, terrified teenager Leah Templeton (Evie Thompson) dials 911 to report an intruder in her family home. Skilled operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) coolly advises Leah to lock herself in a room and remain on the line. Unfortunately, the plan goes tragically awry and Jordan finds herself on the line with the intruder.

“I suggest you leave that house before you do something you regret,” she barks.

“It’s already done,” growls the man, establishing a snappy catchphrase, which is recycled at two pivotal moments later in the film.

Leah is slain and Jordan hangs up her headset.

Six months later, the same madman, Michael Foster (Michael Eklund), abducts a blonde teenager, Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), from a shopping mall.

Jordan happens to be in the call centre “hive” when Casey’s distressed telephone call comes through and the operator takes charge, determined to make amends for Leah.

Haunted by the words of her police officer father - “You might be the difference between somebody living and somebody dying” - Jordan provides Casey with ingenious suggestions for attracting attention from passing motorists.

When one driver (Michael Imperioli) takes note, it seems Casey’s tearful prayers could be answered...

The Call speed-dials suspense for the opening hour, cross cutting between jittery Jordan and hysterical Casey, who gradually bond through the magic of mobile communication.

Berry is solid in an undemanding lead role while Breslin sobs with gusto, tugging our heartstrings when her teenager accepts she will die and asks Jordan to record a message for her mother: “I love you, please don’t ever forget me.”

Once Eklund’s villain reaches his sanctuary and prepares to enact his twisted plan, screenwriter D’Ovidio cold calls for originality for his bloody denouement - but he only connects with a limp homage to Silence Of The Lambs replete with Berry as Jodie Foster.

After an engrossing build-up, we - and the film - deserve better.

RATING: 6/10

DIANA (12A, 113 mins) Romance/Drama.

Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Charles Edwards, Cas Anvar, Juliet Stevenson, Art Malik. Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel.

Released: September 20 (UK & Ireland)

In life, Diana, Princess Of Wales divided opinion, so it’s fitting that Oliver Hirschbiegel’s drama, based on Kate Snell’s contentious book Diana: Her Last Love, should have stirred controversy before a single frame has unspooled on the big screen. Dr Hasnat Khan, the subject of the picture, publicly denounced Diana as a fiction, while a pre-recorded radio interview with star Naomi Watts ended abruptly with the suggestion that she walked out on DJ Simon Mayo.

Tittle tattle aside, Diana is a trashy made-for-TV movie, blessed with an award-winning German director and an Oscar nominated lead actress, whose talents are well and truly squandered. Both are undone by Stephen Jeffrey’s clumsy script while Watts also lacks sexual chemistry with co-star Naveen Andrews, making a mockery of the tears and tantrums when the central relationship ultimately breaks down.

“I’ll never be happy again, I just know it,” whimpers Diana (Watts) to gal pal Sonia (Juliet Stevenson).

If the public image of the princess was elegance and poise, behind the scenes in Hirschbiegel’s film she is emotionally cold and calculating, tipping off a tabloid photographer to her whereabouts so he can splash pictures of her on a yacht with Dodi Fayed (Can Anvar) and pique the jealousy of Dr Khan (Andrews).

Pathetic attempts to win Khan back take a leaf out of the book of Bridget Jones - minus the excessive smoking - including scenes of Diana attempting different dialects in the hope the doctor will take her call.

“Yes, I’ve been a mad bitch, yes I’ve been a stalker and yes I put on the clumsiest Liverpool accent to get your attention!” she concedes in one of many scenes that beggar belief.

Opening in Paris 1997, Hirschbiegel’s film rewinds two years to sow the seeds of romance between the princess and Khan, part of which involves smuggling him into Kensington Palace in the back of her car.

“Looks about 80 kilos in there,” quips one security officer as the vehicle passes a checkpoint.

“That’ll be a Pakistani heart surgeon,” deadpans a colleague.

The pressure of conducting a romance through the omnipresent lens of the media takes its toll and Khan eventually ends the affair, propelling Diane into Dodi’s arms.

Diana isn’t quite the total disaster some vitriolic critics have suggested, but it comes perilously close. Watts offers a passable impression of a global icon, rehearsing answers to Martin Bashir’s questions in a mirror so she can perfect her head tilt as she whispers, “There were three of us in this marriage... so it was a bit crowded.” Andrews fails to live up to his surgeon’s nickname as Mr Wonderful and Hirschbiegel’s direction lacks energy.

An excessive two-hour running time will test the patience of even the most ardent and devoted Diana fan.

RATING: 4/10

R.I.P.D. (12A, 96 mins)

Released: September 20 (UK & Ireland)

Adapted from on the comic book Rest In Peace Department by Peter M Lenkov, R.I.P.D. is an otherworldly action adventure in a similar vein to Men In Black, pairing a grizzled veteran and a gung-ho newcomer in an alternate universe full of ghouls and monsters. Detectives Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) and Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) steal gold bullion found at a drug bust and hide their share. However, Nick gets cold feet and when he threatens to return the booty, Bobby murders him and pins the shooting on a criminal. As his soul ascends, Nick meets Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), director of the Boston division of R.I.P.D., who offers to send the cop back to Earth to capture villainous spirits that failed to successfully cross over from the corporeal world into the afterlife. Nick is partnered with 19th century former US Marshal Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), who has a no-nonsense approach to his work. The veteran and his protege initially rub each the wrong way as they set about their task, but they gradually form a bond as they become embroiled in a far bigger case involving the stolen gold.

COLD COMES THE NIGHT (15, 90 mins)

Released: September 20 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Tze Chun writes and directs this serpentine thriller about a single mother called Chloe (Alice Eve), who is struggling to make ends meet as proprietor of a highway motel. So under the watchful eye of local cop Billy (Logan Marshall-Green), she turns a blind eye to prostitution and vice on the premises. A bad situation spirals out of control when career criminal Topo (Bryan Cranston), who is almost blind, kidnaps Chloe and her young daughter Sophia (Ursula Parker) and forces them to become his eyes so he can take back the cash that Billy has stolen from him. Quick-thinking Chloe engineers a deal that will secure a bright future for her daughter but as she becomes Topo’s willing accomplice, the resourceful mother is woefully unprepared for the crosses and double-crosses that lay ahead.

HAWKING (PG, 91 mins)

Released: September 20 (UK, selected cinemas)

At 21-years-old during his final year at Oxford University, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given just two years to live. Against the overwhelming odds, he defied the doctors to become a pre-eminent mind in the field of cosmology and raised a family with his wife Jane Wilde. In Stephen Finnigan’s life-affirming and inspiring documentary, Hawking tells his incredible story in his own words, granting unprecedented access to his private life including tender and revealing scenes of the world-renowned physicist with his personal assistant and carers. Through testimonies from people, who have met and worked with Hawking, as well as dramatic reconstructions, his ascent through the academic firmament gradually comes into focus, revealing a brilliant yet flawed man who refuses to surrender to the disease. Finnigan’s film is released simultaneously on DVD.