Mel Gibson does his curmudgeony best to save Romuald Boulanger’s chamber piece On the Line, yet this whole enterprise was doomed from the start. If the seemingly AI-generated poster, depicting a heavily touched-up Gibson in front of a radio mic, isn’t enough to throw you off, then prepare for a threadbare, hole-ridden plot with cardboard characters, whose ludicrous dialogue is matched by the stupidest twists in recent memory. After a feature like this, the only thing that’s on the line is Gibson’s career.
The gruff, leathery (dimming) star plays Elvis, a gruff, leathery (dimming) host of a once-popular radio show. A decline in ratings is spurred on by the advent of social media, which he refuses to embrace. He hates contemporary pop music, calling Beyonce “bouncy.” His last Instagram post, a picture of his boots, was three months ago. “I’m not good at that stuff; it’s not me,” he tells his boss. “Let me just do what I do. Let’s not rock the boat.” “The boat is sinking, Elvis,” is the reply he receives.
“…Elvis realizes that Gary is at his house, holding his family hostage.”
Elvis’s colleagues are co-host Mary (Alia Seror-O’Neil), competitor Justin (Kevin Dillon), and newbie switchboard operator Dylan (William Moseley). Dylan gets harshly pranked by Elvis during his first time on air. Among the numerous callers seeking advice is psychopath Gary (Paul Spera). “I’m gonna do something really screwed-up tonight,” he breathes into the phone. Gradually, Elvis realizes that Gary is at his house, holding his family hostage. Truths start to surface: Elvis’s past infidelities, indiscretions, and further sins. A series of cat-and-mouse games ensue: Elvis is forced to climb up on the rooftop edge, handle explosives, hold back cops, and run up and down the stairs like a maniac.
Then the twists arrive. Oh, the twists! To call them condescending would be a compliment. Boulanger must think that his audience consists of masochistic cretins who love subjecting themselves to borderline-offensive nonsense. So, without revealing much, I’ll pose a few questions for those brave enough to sit through On the Line: How does Elvis not know about the camera for so long? What if Elvis actually jumped off that roof? What if the cop shot him? What if Elvis stabbed Gary?
The most disappointing part is that there is a kernel of a decent idea here. The first 30 minutes are taut and compelling, with the writer-director skillfully ramping up the tension. It’s when Gary calls in with his maniacal voice, lame puns, and nonsensical directions that the story reverses course and begins to fall apart. We’ve seen this “human on the phone handling a dire situation” shtick before in countless films, from Phone Booth to the more recent The Call and The Guilty. Add echoes of The Game to the mix, and you get a jumbled, regurgitated, harebrained mess.
"…the slight whiff of racism permeating the proceedings just adds cream to this putrid cake."