‘Desperate Hour’ Abandons Naomi Watts, Good Taste

Phillip Noyce’s “The Desperate Hour” begins with Naomi Watts’ Amy taking a morning jog after nudging her teen son awake for school.

While Amy is running through a long trail, deep into the woods, she hears police cars roar by. Later, her phone alerts her that the high school her son attends is on lockdown, due to a hostage situation. As Amy scrambles past the trees and frantically calls anyone who will answer their phone, she ponders whether the shooter is her son.

This is the tasteless, albeit high concept premise that this movie literally runs with.

I like many of Noyce’s movies and was on board with this one initially, as the beautiful cinematography and rich, overlapping imagery convey Amy’s blissful escape on foot. Once the frantic calls come in and the film attempts to meld a potboiler with the topic of school shootings and the parents of killers, I wanted to throw my shoe at the screen (I didn’t, because I saw this at home).

The recent “Mass” (2021) delved into this material with directness but sensitivity and intelligence, whereas this reminded me of the wrong-headed Uma Thurman vehicle, “The Life Before His Eyes” (2007), another tone-deaf take on the topic with a movie star in the lead.

I suppose Noyce has also seen “Locke” (2013) and “Phone Booth” (2003), which are also movies led by a single performer on the phone for most of the running time. Some of “The Desperate Hour” even reminded me of that scene in “Speed”(1994) where Keanu Reeves is on the pay phone with Dennis Hopper.

“The Desperate Hour” is mostly is a lot like “Cellular” (2004), the efficient but crappy B-movie where a pre-MCU Chris Evans runs around like a madman while a kidnapped Kim Basinger pleads to keep him on the line before his phone dies. That movie was junk, but it knew to never stop moving and certainly didn’t attempt to address the painful horrors of school shootings.

Noyce creates anxiety but the whole thing feels like a contrivance. I never overlooked how the movie is in such bad taste. If Noyce and Watts had admirable intentions, then fine, but this still feels like a miscalculated stunt and aren’t the worst movies always the ones made with good intentions (see the wretched 2011 Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock 9/11 family film, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”)?

Watts’ run is allegedly five miles long but becomes an odyssey, complete with a reference to the Blair Witch. The way the screenwriter keeps her in the woods for so long feels like a manipulation. All of the foreshadowing is obvious, as this is an easy film to get ahead of.

Perhaps this could have worked as a short film and found better, smarter ways to blend real life horrors with a popcorn premise. The John Cho-led “Searching” (2018) succeeded at this.

The film’s author is Chris Sparling, who wrote the dreadful “Down a Dark Hall” (2018) and the thematically similar, gimmicky, crass but superior “Buried” (2010) and “ATM” (2012). This is one of those scripts that should have stayed in the drawer.

What we end up with is a well-crafted bad movie. I’m willing to let a movie just be a movie and not pre-judge it based on how it does or doesn’t reflect real life. If “The Desperate Hour” was a great movie, I wouldn’t have minded the way it handled the difficult topic it portrays (in the same way I really liked Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” and how it approached 9/11). Noyce’s film isn’t just unashamedly manipulative but annoying.

What’s the point to all of this? Turn your damn phone off while you jog!

I despise this film.

One Star



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