DISCLAIMER: I wanted to see how many times I could fit the word ‘bro’ into a review.
Ah, teenagers. Remember the good old days when you could show them an educational video on the perils of teen sex, or drinking and driving, and that’d be enough to scare them straight? That sort of thing doesn’t really work anymore because – well – teenagers are assholes. Big, fat, hormonal assholes. And the type of teenagers depicted in Don’t Hang Up are some of the worst I’ve seen depicted in a film in a very long time. They are monsters, each and every one – so much so that nothing that happened to them affected me in any substantial way because I kind of thought they were getting what they deserved. I guess it’s been a while since we’ve seen a good old fashioned prank calling picture but The Jerky Boys this is not. The Jerky Bros is more like it.
One part Unfriended, one part When A Stranger Calls and all parts bromosexual, Don’t Hang Up stars Gregg Sulkin (MTV’s Faking It) as Sam, a handsome, lovelorn bro who – along with his three friends (all various types of insufferable bros) – plays vicious prank calls on unsuspecting people and them uploads the videos to the internet for the attention it garners them. And these can be pretty vicious calls – as when they call a mother in the middle of the night pretending to be the cops, telling her there is a suspect in the house, and then telling her the suspect has her daughter. We’ve come a long way from calling someone and asking if their refrigerator is running. This is more like, “We have Fat Albert tied up and gutted in a can.” Nothing endears us to protagonists quite like putting seemingly normal people through absolute hell, right?
When Sam’s bestie and fellow pranker, Brady (Garrett Clayton from King Cobra), stops by to help his friend get over his relationship woes, the night takes an unexpected turn when the boys find themselves the subject of another pranker’s affections. But this isn’t just any pranker. This guy knows where they are, where they live, what they look like, and that they evidently have serious man crushes on one another. With loved ones in peril and strict instructions to not leave the house, the boys must both try to outwit the pranker and figure out just how much their bromance really means to one another. At one point, the pranker gives each of them a way out – a life for a life. We never really think for a moment that either of them will take it. I guess that is a credit to how well the bromance is established. Will Sam and Brady stay together? Will the pranker split them up? Don’t Hang Up really, really loves its male bonding.
Let’s start out with this title: Don’t Hang Up. That’s all these characters do throughout the film. They hang up over and over and over again. The voice on the phone tells them repeatedly that if they hang up there will be consequences, but they just keep hanging up and he just keeps calling back. It sort of takes away a good amount of the suspense when you see a villain making threats and then not following through with them. It’d be like the bus in Speed consistently dropping below 50-miles per hour and Dennis Hopper is all like – “Meh.”. An audience expects a certain amount of tension from the overriding threat. Remove that threat and remove the tension. If an audience cannot trust the words of its antagonist even a little, that’s a problem. The protagonists are supposed to trust him, blindly or not. Here, they do not. And we won’t even get started on all the ways the technology in this film doesn’t work the way you think it would.
That said, filmmakers Damien Mace and Alexi Wajsbrot have created a fairly slick looking thriller. Despite a few too many dependencies on cameras moving through objects for no apparent reason, the film is photographed nicely and the production value seems higher than it likely was. I just wish they had paid more attention to the mechanics of the threat and the mechanics of the relationship between Sam and Brady. Sure, we get the betrayal when Sam sees a video he isn’t supposed to see. And, yes, we get one brief moment at a counter as Brady gets real with Sam. That’s it. The rest is your run-of-the-mill bromance. I’ll credit the actors for selling that relationship far better than the script does. I would have also preferred an ending that wasn’t obvious from the first few minutes of the film. No surprises on how this thing ends.
Despite a couple of accent difficulties in the second half, Gregg Sulkin is giving it 110% as Sam and turns in a well-rounded performance. Between this and his work in the under seen Affluenza, Sulkin is choosing some interesting roles for his resume. He has the looks and the charm to be doing bigger fare, so maybe his recent casting in the Runaways series will lead to that. Garrett Clayton, on the other hand, is just too much as Brady. He’s impossible to stand after the first five minutes. Maybe that is by design, but I doubt it. He is made up of several stock bros from various films of the past couple decades, none of whom are very interesting. And I never really bought the friendship between Sam and Brady, at least not to the extent I needed to buy it in order to care if either of them survived the ordeal. Their whole “brothers for life” mantra is a second rate “Texas forever” and – when you can’t best Taylor Kitsch in the believable department, you know you’ve got problems. Hell, I ended up thinking more about the people they were pranking than the horrible things happening to Sam and Brady.
Don’t Hang Up fails in that it doesn’t understand how to develop real tension, or characters. This isn’t how teenagers act. This isn’t how teenagers talk. This is how Stifler talked in the American Pie films. Even he eventually grew up. I credit Sulkin for making the most of the material and providing some genuine emotion from time-to-time, but even he wasn’t enough to save the film from going over Bromance Falls in a raft and leaving no survivors. The only thing missing from this film was the scene where Sam and Brady engage in some lighthearted wrestling, only to have them stop, stare longingly into one another’s eyes, and then slowly move in for the…yeah, you get the picture. Too bad the filmmakers didn’t.
“Don’t Hang Up” is currently playing in select cities and available for purchase on iTunes.