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‘On The Line’ (review)

It’s tough to talk about a Mel Gibson movie anymore without talking about Mel Gibson but I’m going to try. I’ve been watching him since the original Mad Max era (although I think I actually saw The Road Warrior first) and I have to say he was and still is a very charismatic screen presence. Wrinkled and grizzled at 66, he remains a strong and charming action hero…which is actually a problem with his new movie, On the Line.

I’ve also tried several times to write a spoiler-free review of this movie but I’ve decided that simply can’t be done. So buckle up for some serious spoilage from this point on.

On the Line is sort of a Die Hard movie mixed with a Saw film as Gibson, playing an aging, jaded, and egotistical radio shock jock named Elvis, pursues the bad guy who has taken his family hostage and taken over a tall building, while occasionally being “tested” to try and get him to commit murder or suicide in order to save others.

Or so it seems, anyway.

We see Elvis with his wife and little daughter in the beginning. Seems like a nice enough guy. But then he gets to work and his interactions with others quickly peg him as a major schmuck. We learn he has a history of jokingly harassing co-workers, that he’s been on the air for decades, that he’s known for taking practical jokes “too far,” and that it’s about to be his birthday. We also learn about the Internet comic who canceled as a guest on the show that evening and we meet Dylan, the new engineer just starting that night, just in from England. Once on the air, Elvis proceeds to fire Dylan…with an eventual “just kidding.”

All of this turns out to be important later on so I hope you were paying attention.

With the guest canceled, Elvis takes phone calls. (Quick aside: Since when does the FCC allow profanity, even after midnight?) If you’ve ever listened to a radio call-in show, you know some of these callers can be really off the wall, especially overnight. In this case, a call comes in with a man threatening violence. Turns out it’s violence toward Elvis and his family, whom he has already taken hostage. Seems Elvis once drove the caller’s girlfriend to suicide and now he’s determined for revenge.

In a series of elaborate cat and mouse “games,” various people are killed as Elvis, with the help of Dylan, who’s tagging along to keep them on-air as demanded by the killer, is driven to the edge over and over but is resourceful enough to keep going, while Dylan is clearly at his wit’s end much of the time wondering what the hell he’s gotten into!

Then comes the big reveal. SPOILER!!! It was all a gag, a hoax, a practical joke on the new guy set up by Elvis in conjunction with the Big Bad, who is actually the Internet comic who supposedly had canceled. Nobody is dead, nobody is hurt. It was all elaborate performance art, designed to scare Dylan half to death. Everyone else from the police to the supposed corpses were in on it. Elvis’s wife and daughter were never even there. They were home safe the entire movie.

I admit I was stunned by this revelation, mainly because it doesn’t work. Mel Gibson’s intense performance is genuinely impressive…but we’re given no reason to believe Elvis is half the actor Mel Gibson is and yet it’s Elvis we’re seeing seething throughout in anger, fear, and disgust, sweating out time limits that were supposedly all just a joke. And the rest of the radio station staff! We’re supposed to believe they all can stay in character—even the presumed dead ones? How did real cops agree to be in on this? And what about the lobby guard he argues with in the beginning when no one else is around and who we later see supposedly murdered? Or the Jared Leto/Jesus-looking guy who interrupts them only to serve as a quickly forgotten red herring? The “gag” lasted all night over the air, and we’re sometimes given glances at the continually freaking out social media comments. Surely the police would’ve been all over this situation long before its convoluted conclusion.

And how does poor Dylan take it? SPOILER: Not well at all. In his nervous anger, he falls down a stairwell, smashes his head on a pipe, and dies. Cut to Elvis blaming himself, apparently after a police interview in an office of the radio station.

The fact that the movie continued after what seemed its climax was one tip-off that there was one more twist yet to come and this one I saw coming from miles away. SPOILER: Dylan is still alive, only his name is Max and he’s a stuntman who works with the comedian guy and everybody who was part of the over-the-top, unfunny practical joke that Elvis had set up, was also in on the over-the-top, unfunny practical joke to “get” Elvis and beat him at his own game…for his birthday, yet.

Seriously.

I can’t deny that I really enjoyed On the Line, but I enjoyed it as the thriller/action film it was for most of its running time, all of which was suddenly and completely undermined by the film’s concluding twists that revealed that it wasn’t just Elvis who was a schmuck, but all of the other characters as well…ultimately including even Dylan. Er…Max.

“Max,” as in Mad Max, which brings us back to Mel Gibson. His personal life and beliefs aside, On the Line proves that he’s still one of the great movie stars, even when the movie’s not so great.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Romuald Boulanger, Robert Ogden Barnum, Marc Frydman
Written and Directed by Romuald Boulanger
Starring Mel Gibson, William Moseley, Kevin Dillon,Enrique Arce,Nadia Farès

 

 

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