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Dustin Putman

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One Missed Call  (2008)
1 Stars
Directed by Eric Valette
Cast: Shannyn Sossamon, Edward Burns, Ana Claudia Talancón, Azura Skye, Johnny Lewis, Jason Beghe, Ray Wise, Margaret Cho, Meagan Good, Rhoda Griffis, Ariel Winter, Reagan Lamb, Karen Beyer.
2008 – 86 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and terror, and thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 5, 2008.
"One Missed Call" is uninspired, derivative and gutless—an inferior American remake of Takashi Miike's 2003 J-horror film, "Chakushin Ari." Admittedly, the original was also little more than a rip-off of 1998's "Ringu" (in a change of pace, improved upon with 2002's U.S. remake "The Ring"), but director Miike brought appropriate style, spookiness and, ultimately, eloquence to his sometimes esoteric storytelling. Whatever "Chakushin Ari" did respectively right and wrong, "One Missed Call" strictly gets wrong. French director Eric Valette helms this scareless redux with little to no imagination, every shot seemingly stolen wholesale from other movies (among them, "The Grudge," "Pulse," "Final Destination," "In Dreams," and, God forbid, even 2005's insultingly bad "The Fog" remake). Worse still, the film's dispensable reliance on fakey CGI over practical effects and make-up is ruinously disheartening, calling attention to itself and destroying whatever mood and mythos it otherwise might have had.

College student Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) and friends Taylor (Ana Claudia Talancón), Leann (Azura Skye) and Brian (Johnny Lewis) are having an unlucky semester, and it has nothing to do with their impending finals. One by one, they receive a voicemail message on their cell phone that apparently is a recording of their own death. As each prophecy comes true, the next person receives the call. Determined to solve the curse before her ticking time of death is reached, Beth joins up with empathetic police investigator Jack Andrews (Edward Burns), whose sister might have been the first victim, to track down the source of the mayhem.

"One Missed Call" is paint-by-numbers filmmaking with, allegedly, some good, old-fashioned studio interference thrown in courtesy of ratings-obsessed Warner Bros. Hence, what we have here is a PG-13 horror film that not only lacks the grisly goods one expects from genre efforts, but is also devoid of suspense, depth and personality. The characters, particularly Beth's dwindling friends, resemble cardboard cutouts rather than human beings, and feature zero development. Each one shows up for a couple minutes, has a few throwaway lines, and is promptly dispatched of. Protagonists Beth and Jack aren't a heck of a lot more fleshed out, and are pretty dull besides. Director Eric Valette's idea of frightening an audience is to trot out endless people with demonic CGI faces, which the characters barely react to, and if that fails he just half-heartedly goes for a middling, ineffective jump scare.

Even compared to the open-to-interpretation Japanese version, the film's logic is a mess. It is established early on that the endangered person is the one who has received the portentous voicemail message, and everyone else is safe until their time comes. How to explain, then, the very first scene where marked-for-doom Shelley (Meagan Good, in a sixty-second cameo) is pulled into her backyard pond, followed by her cat? Who knew felines could have cell phones? The methods of murder are also inconsistent; one minute, people are dying in "Final Destination"-style freak accidents, and the next ghosts are popping out and doing the dirty work. The back-story involving the origin of the curse, nearly identical to the original, is nonetheless missing the one key detail necessary in beginning to explain the root of the undying evil. By cutting this single element out of the flashbacks, it lessens the impact and the coherence of the plot. The less said about the sloppy and chaotic ending, the better.

The cast looks bored beyond words, and who could blame them? Shannyn Sossamon is a gorgeous gal even in the frumpy attire she is given to wear here, and has been good in past films such as 2001's "A Knight's Tale" and 2002's "The Rules of Attraction." With that said, she treats this particular role as if she can't be bothered. Both Sossamon and Edward Burns (2005's "A Sound of Thunder") act out their scenes as if they're more concerned with being on time for a hair appointment than believably filling out their characters. Beth, for example, stays stone-faced as she watches all her friends die, while Jack's period of mourning for his corpsy sis is evidently not high on his to-do list. The rest of the actors aren't around long enough to make an impression, though Azura Skye (2001's "Bandits") tries her hardest to add character shades where there are none as the ill-fated Leann. And what, pray tell, is stand-up comic-turned-actress Margaret Cho doing in the two-scene throwaway part of a humor-free doubting cop?

"One Missed Call" approaches effectiveness in two scenes, one where a ghastly face suddenly emerges from the darkness of an air shaft, and another where the religious statues in a church take on a malevolent appearance. The rest of the film is a botched job, repeating standout sequences from its source material while tweaking them so that they are now as generic as can be (the reality talk show attack comes to mind). Even the voice messages are forgettable this time around, though there is something to be said for the stupidity of a character who already knows what his last words alive are going to be and then says them aloud right after talking about them. Though this part was used in "Chakushin Ari," the line of dialogue was more innocuous and could be said in everyday speech without thinking about it. That isn't the case in this instance, and the scene gets bad laughs because of it. I could go on, but why bother? The filmmakers sure didn't. "One Missed Call" is puerile and low-rent, piggybacking on the fad of updating foreign horror films by dumbing them down for us American simpletons.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman