Dial Tone

The Caller
Running time 92 minutes
Written by Alain-Didier Weill and Richard Ledes
Directed by Richard Ledes
Starring Frank Langella, Elliott Gould

Along the same shaky lines, The Caller is a loopy, talky, 92-minute two-hander with Elliott Gould and Frank Langella (on a downward spiral following his juicy triumph in Frost/Nixon), written and directed by a force to forget called Richard Ledes. France, 1944: Two boys playing in a field are startled by German planes that render them orphans. Cut to New York, 2008. Bear with me while I see if I get this right. Frank Langella is a corporate brain whose job is predicting the future energy needs of developing countries, for which international financial institutions fund construction projects to meet anticipated demands. The companies that profit from distorting those estimates make it impossible for countries to pay back their loans, thereby putting them further at the mercy of international capital. Mr. Langella switches the financial projections of the powerful international financial conglomerate he works for, costing them billions. Result: He’s marked for death by a contract killer. Calling himself John Doe, he hires Mr. Gould, a private detective, to tail his assassin. The twist to keep you awake: The killer is also the victim. In the course of the spy game, they become friends. Poor Mr. Langella is forced to blather gibberish like “They wanted me to make it all up, but they didn’t want to know I was making it up. They didn’t want to know what they knew and I didn’t want to know what I know.” Huh?

Mr. Langella, with his owlish alertness, and Mr. Gould, with his sad, sagging face, make quite a pair. They both look like wax fruit, totally alone in their solitary skins but in different ways, in a film of mind-altering pretentiousness that limps back and forth between today’s economic crisis and World War II with no coherent purpose whatsoever. Added to the mix are a nightclub singer in a plush cabaret with Aubusson carpets unlike anything I’ve ever seen in New York City; a creepy little girl in Central Park; and Langella’s mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Maybe he’s the little boy from 1944, but if she’s the dead mother bombed by the Germans, that would make her a ghost somewhere around 110 years old. Which is approximately how you’ll feel yourself, if you survive The Caller.

rreed@observer.com Dial Tone