Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Romuald Boulanger
Stars: Mel Gibson, William Moseley, Paul Spera, Alia Seror-O’Neill, Nadia Fares, Kevin Dillon, Enrique Arce, Yoli Fuller, Ravin J Ganatra, Nancy Tate, John Robinson.
This claustrophobic thriller mainly set in one location has garnered some of the worst reviews of Mel Gibson’s career. Gibson, a former A-lister, has seen his career falter due to some off-screen indiscretions and he now seems to appear in a number of B-grade films or formulaic straight to DVD movies. And it is unlikely that his latest film, On The Line, will do much to resurrect his stalled career.
Gibson plays Elvis Cooney, an abrasive and rude shock jock who hosts a late-night talk show on KLAT, an LA radio station, and he courts controversy with his acerbic commentary and putdowns. His boss (Nadia Fares) warns him that, one day, he may go too far on the air, and she also urges him to use social media to raise his profile. But on this night, when he is breaking in eager new intern Dylan (William Moseley, from the Chronicles Of Narnia series, etc) the show ends up being far from routine.
A caller named Gary (Paul Spera, from On The Basis Of Sex, etc) phones in and threatens Elvis, claiming that because Elvis ruined his life he is going to ruin him. He wants Elvis to learn a vital lesson about how words have consequences. Gary says that Elvis abused a female employee at the radio station, who subsequently committed suicide as a result. He forces Elvis to answer a couple of deeply personal questions truthfully, sharing some damaging revelations, before tightening the proverbial screws further. Then there are the sounds of gunshots and breaking glass, which set in motion a deadly cat and mouse game between Elvis and Gary. Gary insists that Elvis stay on the line and keep broadcasting or else something bad will happen to his family. Armed with a radio mic and headset, Elvis and Dylan prowl the deserted stairways, corridors and offices of the radio station searching for clues as they desperately try to learn the caller’s identity and to try and save his family.
They discover that the doors and the car park of the station building have been wired with explosives, which further increases the tension of this race against time scenario. And as the drama plays out live on the airwaves, listeners post comments on the social media feed.
On The Line has been written and directed by French filmmaker Romuald Boulanger, and this marks his English language feature debut. As with films like Phone Booth and the recent The Guilty, much of the action plays out in a single location and seemingly in real time, which adds to the tension. With its central plot featuring a radio station talk show host On The Line also shares elements with Oliver Stone’s 1988 drama Talk Radio, which featured Eric Bogosian as a rude shock jock; the 1995 Korean drama Midnight Caller; and the short lived 90s tv series Midnight Caller, in which Gary Cole starred as a former detective turned talk show host who helped solve problems for callers. On The Line is leavened with touches of black humour.
On The Line offers an intriguing premise and Boulanger effectively maintains the suspense and tension for two thirds of the film. However, it is ultimately let down by too many twists and turns that become increasingly convoluted and unbelievable, and a clunky ending that will disappoint many. It seems as if Boulanger painted himself into a corner and didn’t know how to satisfactorily resolve the situation so took the lazy way out.
The main strength of the film though is Gibson’s strong performance as the obnoxious and arrogant Elvis; he is on screen the whole time and has a commanding presence that reminds us of his heyday as a bona fide film star and box office draw. Spera brings a sense of menace to his role as the disembodied voice of the mysterious caller. The cast also includes Alia Seror-O’Neill as Mary, Elvis’ producer, and Kevin Dillon in a small role as Justin, a rival disc jockey.
Although set in LA, much of On The Line was shot in Paris. Cinematographer Xavier Castro uses handheld cameras and over the shoulder POV shots to increase the tension. Pierre-Marie Croquet’s sharp editing keeps things moving. There is also some good production design from Emmanuel Reveillere, which brings to life the radio station interiors.