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A house of technology and no caller ID

A compound with automatic everything is one of many misplaced elements in "When a Stranger Calls."

February 06, 2006|Jan Stuart | Newsday

The fabulous Modernist house that is the unbilled star of "When a Stranger Calls" is supposed to be in Colorado, but only someone who has attended lots of jet-set movie industry parties in Los Angeles could cook it up.

Nothing in this droopy remake of the 1979 thriller starring Carol Kane could possibly be as frightening as the Windex bill for those two-story picture windows, not to mention the ones that surround the indoor arboretum and fish pond. Everything that you don't sit on or ingest in this house is automatic this and body-sensitized that. There are so many buttons to power so many things, one might do better to rub sticks together than try to find the ignite control on the fireplace remote.

What's more, it would take an infantry to guard one's children in such a fortress. Apparently skimping on their annual defense budget, the house's profligate owners instead hire a teenage baby-sitter named Jill (played by the anxious Camilla Belle) to watch their two dumplings for an evening. When Jill starts to get anonymous harassing calls from a heavy-breathing man, she discovers that her employers have also been pinching on the $6.50 per month it would have cost them to put caller ID on their land line.

Who is making all those banging and clattering noises around the house in between those threatening calls?

Could it be Rosa the live-in maid, sequestered like Rapunzel in a tower room on the third floor? Could it be the couple's college-age son, who occasionally stays in the detached guesthouse? Could it be Jill's boyfriend-stealing friend Tiffany, who has blond trash written all over her puffy lips and "kill me first" scrawled across her treacherously furrowed forehead?

See Jill, you could have been out partying at the big bonfire with all your friends. But no, you're being grounded by daddy for exceeding his monthly cellphone allotment by 800 minutes. And now your life is in danger, all because you couldn't hang up on your boyfriend. Stupid, feckless girl.

"When a Stranger Calls" was directed free of any distracting moments of surprise by Simon West. It was written by Jake Wade Wall, who is credited with attending Yale University and earning his degree from New York University. That seems like an awful lot of time and tuition to invest in writing scripts that pander to high school dropouts with too much time to burn at the malls.


'When a Stranger Calls'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense terror, violence and some language

A Sony Pictures/Screen Gems release. Director Simon West. Screenplay Jake Wade Wall, based on the film written by Steve Feke and Fred Walton. Producers John Davis, Ken Lemberger, Wyck Godfrey. Cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. Editor Jeff Betancourt. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

In general release.

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