Several actors have found new life in the world of VOD. What started in earnest during the VHS video tape era is now thriving with Video On Demand. Prior to the sad news of his retirement due to health problems, Bruce Willis was putting out several of these low-budget, straight-to-VOD action-thrillers per year (he made SEVEN in 2021 alone). While Mel Gibson is still seen in larger big screen projects, lately he’s been popping up in several of these VOD features.
Gibson’s latest “On the Line” comes from writer, director, and co-producer Romuald Boulanger, and technically it fits within the VOD sphere in terms of budget and (at times) quality. But Boulanger creates a few moments that elevate it beyond the box that so many of these movies snugly fit in. And we get a few scenes that tease us with the old Mel Gibson who can carry a movie with his gravelly charisma alone.
But “On the Line” can’t quite shake the nagging problem of its utterly preposterous scenario. It left me with so many questions. It’s also a movie that hinges so much on its final act twist. But getting to that twist isn’t easy. The movie’s shaky opening gives way to a middle section that ranges from head-scratching to astonishingly bad. But what makes this such a hard review to consider is that the ending actually explains why the long and bumpy middle is the way it is. But that doesn’t make our first sitting through the stretch any more satisfying.
Gibson plays Elvis Cooney, a “legendary” LA shock jock who hosts a popular midnight radio show called On the Line. After arriving at the station for his evening slot, Elvis butts heads with his on-air rival, Justin (Kevin Dillon), gets an earful from his ratings-worried boss, Sam (Nadia Farès), and is introduced to his new producer named Dylan (William Moseley). He then sits down with his switchboard operator, Mary (Alia Seror-O’Neill) and kicks off his caller-based program.
Early into the show, Elvis takes a disturbing call from a troubled man named Gary from Pasadena. He claims to be outside of the home of the man who “ruined his life”, and if Elvis takes him off the air he’ll kill everyone inside. It puts Elvis in a tricky predicament that only gets thornier once Gary reveals he’s at Elvis’ house. So with his wife and daughter held hostage by an armed madman, all Elvis can do is keep him on the line and play his demented game of wits.
It all makes for a fairly interesting premise that’s easy to latch onto but hard to stay connected with, especially as things get more and more absurd. Outside of Elvis, all we get are wafer-thin characters, some weird decision-making, and bits of cringe-worthy dialogue that’s hard to get past. But then we get that twist which makes you second guess your frustrations with the earlier stuff. It’s just as ridiculous, but it does catch you off-guard and help make sense of what you’ve seen up to that point. But it’s hard to toss aside the experience leading up to the reveal. It’s ultimately what keeps the film from hitting its ambitious mark. “On the Line” premieres today, November 4th, in select theaters and on VOD.