Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Calling: Popping Pills and Chasing Serial Killers

It is hard to say which are dumber in this non-mystery: the Christians who willingly sacrifice themselves in rituals that violate nearly every tenet of their faith or the Keystone cops who spend more time chasing their tails than the only suspect we ever see. At least, Detective Hazel Micallef has the excuse of being a pill popping drunk. Nonetheless, she is the only copper smart enough to figure out a serial killer is on the loose in Jason Stone’s logically challenged The Calling (trailer here), opening this Friday in select theaters.

Micallef lives with her mother, drinks too much, and openly carries on with a married man in the small Canadian town of Fort Dundas (perhaps that should be Fort Dunderhead). She is currently the town’s acting police chief by virtue of seniority, but her position is tenuous at best. However, when one of her mother’s church cronies is decapitated, Micallef’s atrophied intuition says it must be the work of a serial killer.

With the help of her long suffering deputy and a green transfer from Toronto, she identifies similar facial manipulations in other bodies just outside her jurisdiction. For some reason, she seeks the counsel of Father Price, who immediately confirms each victim’s mouth has been molded to form part of a long forgotten early Christian sacrificial-reincarnation prayer. Gee, that’s not suspiciously convenient at all.

Of course, about ten seconds later we learn the good Father is indeed well acquainted with the killer. While he is morally conflicted (because Donald Sutherland could not possibly play an out-and-out bad guy in a Susan Sarandon movie), he still acquiesces to the mysterious Simon’s dubious scheme.

The Calling is based on the first of three Micallef mystery novels written by Michael Redhill under the Inger Ash Wolfe pseudonym. However, there is not much mystery in the film and common sense is also scarce as hen’s teeth. On paper, the Micallef character sounds promising, but Sarandon is the wrong person for the role. Instead of embracing her degenerate nature, she plays her like some sort of martyr, trying to be a hard drinking Sister Helen Prejean with a badge.

Evidently, Gil Bellows is the new go-to-guy whenever a casting agent needs a small town deputy, but he provides a much needed sense of stability for the ludicrous plot. As Father Price, Sutherland manages to say some ridiculous lines with a straight face. Sarandon’s fellow Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn must have owed one of the producers a big favor, because she has absolutely nothing interesting to do as Micallef’s mother. Regardless, she appears natural and credible in all her scenes, unlike the awkward looking Topher Grace, sticking out like a sore thumb as the freshly re-assigned Ben Wingate. However, Christopher Heyerdahl brings real presence and a bit of ambiguity as Simon, the symbolically loaded bogeyman.

Ill conceived and executed in a manner that minimizes any potential suspense, The Calling just doesn’t have much going on. Clearly, Scott Abramovitch’s screenplay fancies itself some sort of Bill Maher critique of faith-before-reason Christianity, but its defining characteristic is its blandness. Not recommended, it opens this Friday (8/29) in select cities.