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Denise Calls Up

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Denise Calls Up

Starring: Alanna Ubach, Timothy Daly
Director: Hal Salwen
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 80 Minutes
Release Date: March 1996
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Timothy Daly, Jean LaMarre, Mark Blum, Tim Daly, Caroleen Feeney, Dan Gunther, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Liev Schreiber, Aida Turturro

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

DENISE CALLS UP is a claustrophobic, but carefully executed one joke movie. Within the strict confines of the show's unusual format, writer and director Hal Salwen creates a movie that does the most possible given the script's rigid adherence to its design. Even given its inherent limitations, it is interesting, unique, and thought provoking. Still, I feel I should warn you that its repetition and its circular story may make all but the most dedicated cinema buffs a little dizzy.

DENISE CALLS UP takes place solely in the world of the telecommuters. Remember the scene in BYE BYE BIRDIE where everyone talks on the telephone in individual rooms? Well, in DENISE CALLS UP, everyone is in their own homes working and periodically chatting with their friends. What they never ever do is actually leave to meet any of them. They promise to meet, they throw parties, and they arrange blind dates, but they all fashion different excuses so they can all stay within the safe confines of their homes.

The movie is populated by a world of troglodytes who are afraid of human contact. They like talking, but actual human interaction is too frightening, better to stick to intimate relationships with their phones and their computers. Besides Homo sapiens, the picture is filled with every type of phone and computer imaginable. All of the phones have call waiting and much of the show consists of A talking to B, who then gets a call from C causing B to put A on hold. C then gets a call from D. You get the idea. In order to arrange blind dates with each other they fax around pictures of the last time they have actually seen each other, which is in school.

They take calls while on the toilet. Sometimes they read while talking on the toilet, but other times they work on their laptops while there. Barbara (Caroleen Feeney) hangs up on potential blind date, Jerry (Liev Schreiber), because she does not mind talking with her coworkers or business clients while on the toilet, and using her laptop, but she draws the line at non-business people whom she does not yet know.

There is no central character, but the name of the show comes from a scene where Martin Wiener (Dan Gunther) is called by a woman, Denise (Alanna Ubach), on a bus on her cell phone. Although he has never met her, it seems she is having his baby since she got his sperm from a sperm bank. The on-going joke is whether they or any other of the couples in the show ever meet or will they confine their relationship to words spoken on the phone.

The quick cuts by editor Gary Sharfin and the tone set by the director make the movie feel highly improvisational. This means some silly lines will be followed by some excellent ones.

Gale (Dana Wheeler Nicholson) has Frank (Tim Daly) as an ex-boyfriend whom she is always going to see again, someday. She plays matchmaker with Barbara and Jerry, but they keep putting each other off. In a classic line, Barbara is talking on her car phone to Jerry and trying to convince him that is the reason she can't actually set a date for their date. She says, "I'm on Park Ave. See. [She beeps her horn.] I don't have my schedule. I mean my primary schedule. I'd hate to pencil you in and then find I have a discrepancy." Barbara does not understand it when her romance with Jerry doesn't work like she would like and so she sours on him proclaiming, "He was so sweet in the beginning, sending me little love faxes."

The shallow and meaningless lives these people live consists of conversations, phone sex, fear of commitment, and most of all, an absolute phobia about physical human contact. A phone is much safer. Better to have never actually met someone than be disappointed. When there is a death, you may be able to guess how, Frank consoles Linda (Aida Turturro) with, "Don't feel bad. Death is well, not for everyone." These people have long since hung up on life so I am not sure why death is so hard for them to deal with.

Although the acting is fine, the reason to see this experimental show is to see how long they can keep these characters from ever meeting. Will the whole show go on and every room have just a single character? Will anyone risk meeting face-to-face? Is having a baby enough to bring the parents together? Will anyone come to Frank's party or will it be like Linda's where everyone promised to come and not a single one showed? I'm not telling.

DENISE CALLS UP runs just 1:21, but even shorter, it would have been better as the show does wear out its welcome a bit. It is rated PG-13. There is no violence, no nudity, almost no bad language and the sex is strictly over the phone. The picture is fine for teenagers and probably for some kids a little younger. I give the film a thumbs up and rate it ** 1/2.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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