Saturday, November 05, 2022

On the Line: Starring Mel Gibson

Elvis Cooney is a “shock jock” who stayed rebel, instead of selling out and shilling for the powers-that-be, like Howard Stern did. Unfortunately, that means he has a lot of enemies out there, like “Gary,” the angry caller. Tragically, Gary is also the Michael Moore of psycho-stalkers, who has a habit of killing innocent security guards to express his displeasure with Cooney. He is also holding onto Cooney’s wife and daughter for a grand finale in screenwriter-director Romuald Boulanger’s On the Line, which is now playing in New York.

Cooney definitely has a take no prisoners sense of humor, as poor Dylan, the new production assistant discovers during his first show. Yet, he learns quickly to roll with the punches, just like Cooney’s producer, Mary and the rest of the station staff. However, there is something off about “Gary,” a disturbed-sounding caller—so much so, Cooney insists Dylan get him back on the line.

When he does, Gary drops a bombshell. He claims to have broken into Cooney’s home, where he is holding the radio host’s wife and daughter hostage. Threatening to kill them, the mystery man forces Cooney to play a series of humiliating games on live radio. Of course, Gary, the clever psychopath, always manages to stay several steps ahead of the police and Cooney.

Frankly, Cooney is such an outrageous shock jock, we can actually believe people still listen to him. There are a lot of problems with the film, including some face-palm-inducing twists, but it almost all still works thanks to Mel Gibson. He still has a credible radio voice and an edgy, live-wire screen-presence to carry the film as Cooney. Seriously, how easy is it to believe Mel Gibson could get into serious trouble for the things he says?

Paul Spera (who was terrific as Steven Spielberg in
UFOs) is mostly heard rather than seen playing Gary, but his somewhat nasal voice is definitely all kinds of sinister. William Moseley is a little too wide-eyed as naïve Dylan, but Kevin Dillon earns some laughs as Justin, Cooney’s main on-air station rival.

In some ways,
On the Line is a throwback to films like Talk Radio and The Fisher King, when radio still had mass media reach (and could reach the wrong, unsavory types). Yet, it is also perversely zeitgeisty. Admittedly, Cooney stands accused of some pretty mean-spirited jokes, but it reflects the increasingly pervasive fear that saying something deemed “offensive” could lead to ugly, vindictive reprisals.

Still, that third act is hard to believe. It will almost make viewers wonder if the entire film was an extended joke—but on whom?
 Weirdly, you have to admire Boulanger’s resolve to go there and then double-down. Recommended for Gibson fans (he keeps things interesting, doesn’t he?), On the Line is now playing at the Cinema Village.