May 1, 2015
Hal Ozsan as Michael Lane
Nicholle Tom as Katherine Lane
Tom Sizemore as Jeff
Judd Nelson as Sheriff Stance
It almost stings. You’re going in blind, rooting for an indie film, and indeed, it gracefully (and thankfully) brings you in and begins to take you along on its journey. Then, somewhere at the hour mark, things begin to unravel, and you hold out that inkling of hope that it’ll somehow catch you up again – ‘cause you’ve invested the time, found some quality pieces in the picture…
But it never gets you again… and ends. The credits roll and you are left feeling sad and certainly frustrated.
Dammit, it almost worked.
What’s the old Don Adams Get Smart line? “Missed it by that much.”
Such is the case with Private Number, a new release from writer/director LazRael Lison.
Michael Lane (Hal Ozsan – the sexy lovechild of The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal and Brooklyn 99’s Andy Samberg) is a successful writer and recovering alcoholic, working on the follow-up to his first well-received novel. His loving wife Katherine (Nicholle Tom) is busy opening a new clothing boutique. Things look nice and sweet and normal in this 4-year old marriage. Michael’s got some writer’s block, and Katherine is exhausted from the new business. Their social lives are non-existent and Katherine is jonesin’ for a baby.
And then the late night phone calls begin. Multiple voices from the other end of the line, blankly asking Michael, “Remember me?” (perhaps too esoteric or rom-com sounding, but that line would be my choice nonetheless for a more suitable title). Each call shows on caller ID as, you guessed it, “private number”.
Things start to get wonky, when some decidedly supernatural events begin to occur in their small town home. There are echoes of Paranormal Activity here, as well as a hearty helping of Stephen King’s many, many “writers are bat-shit crazy” movies – including Big Driver, Secret Window, The Shining and The Dark Half. The character of Michael even goes as far as to mention a wish for the success and monumental output of Stephen King.
The two leads — Ozsan and Tom — are particularly excellent. It’s one of those aforementioned “quality pieces” which make it so tough to see the film finish with such a big blah. They are utterly believable in their lovely marital bliss and then of course, their harsh marital woes. There are several emotional scenes of them separately, but most especially when they’re on-screen together – their loving chemistry is strikingly effective. They’re a real couple, dealing with falling off the wagon, a serial crank-caller and the bipolar intensity of a frustrated artist. Ozsan’s moments of writer’s block struck a blow to me personally. In a nutshell, well done.
Tom Sizemore shows up as Jeff, one of Michael’s co-horts in Alchoholics Anonymous, and apparently his personal sponsor. He has but a few moments with Michael, and frankly, I don’t feel that these scenes added much, other than to show our lead character in such a recovery group. Sizemore’s character seemingly had little impact on Michael’s on-screen journey, and so – as in another recent film which I reviewed, the talented Sizemore was all but wasted – simply lending some name recognition to an indie effort. It also felt as though Sizemore (while always a terrific actor) could have dug a little deeper into his character, considering his history with painful addictions – and regardless of his precious few moments of screen-time.
Judd Nelson also shows up in a rather thankless role as Sheriff Stance. While it is nice to see him working, the role was boring, and unfortunately, not authentic or interesting. I didn’t believe for a moment that Nelson was a cop.
Private Number is clearly a low budget film (very limited locations and stream-lined cast), with many practical effects, which is why it was so jarring to see two very obvious CGI moments — one completely unnecessary and one actually effective and interesting – carving a way into the film’s running time. They were simply too obvious – especially when the rest of the film has few – if any – flashy moments like these.
As for any scares – they were sparse, but the film was more of a mystery anyway, so I’ll let it go.
Speaking of which, I sort of had this one figured out, but the reveal was a bit more than I anticipated. It was the performance of Ozsan which held together this flailing last half hour. A flashback moment was very well done, when things take an interesting turn. I don’t want to blurt out too much, but a very unexpected change takes place, and then that fascinating turn was wasted when the film fell back into cliché. Sigh.
And we’re back to the still tingling sensation of a harsh sting. I tried to stick around mentally, but the film became boring. Nothing happened for so much time, that the 97 minute running time began to drag. Despite the really talented leads, we needed a little more action, and far less of the so-called “Nancy Drew bit”. A large portion of the film’s last third was research on the internet to find clues. Overdone. And done better.
My other big complaint on the film, was the over-powering score by Harold Squire. It was fine some of the time, but then there would be these big emotional cues when Michael was simply on the internet (see above paragraph) or in similar inappropriate moments. A good score should not necessarily make its presence known. This one did, far too many times.
And the film also tickled me with a bit of nostalgia as the credits rolled. Perhaps it was the well done relationship between the leads or the one main story location. Call me crazy (I am a writer after all), but for whatever reason, Private Number reminded me of the 80s horror classic,Witchboard.
Finally, there were a few details in the film which were too hard to swallow. I won’t tell you the main one, as it will ruin the surprise. But certain physical character traits would have been noticed by other characters. I mean, c’mon.
Despite its many faults, I will give Private Number a good recommendation. But don’t say I didn’t warn you – lots of goodies to be uncovered, but you gotta sift through some not-so-goodies.