Denise Calls Up

1996, PG-13, 82 min. Directed by Hal Salwen. Starring Tim Daly, Caroleen Feeney, Dan Gunther, Dana Sheeler Nicholson, Liev Schreiber, Aida Turturro, Allana Ubach, Sylvia Miles.

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., May 24, 1996

At first glance, Denise Calls Up appears to be one long, facile, trendy, overextended cinematic gimmick -- a tale of Nineties technophiles who have forsaken nearly all human contact and commune only through phones, faxes, and answering machines. The urban, at-home workers are variously “swamped,” “drowning,” “deluged,” and “inundated” with pure busy-ness, rarely daring to move out of keyboard reach. Their self-imposed exile becomes so commonplace and so comfortable that physical interaction becomes unnecessary, even untenable. Indeed, no two characters ever appear in the same frame (well, hardly ever). Instead, they make long and frequent phone calls, constantly clicking the receiver buttons to use their call-waiting mechanism so they can simulate group conversation. Writer/director Salwen's deft touch and wry sense of humor makes the gimmick work. You never get the feeling that the static framework was artificially imposed or that the plot was fashioned specifically to fit it, rather that it grew, quite naturally, from the story. Despite its close environs, the movie moves along quickly, fueled by technological pratfalls, interesting camera angles, a witty script, and a terrific soundtrack. (Listen for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Muddy Waters, and Reverend Horton Heat.) Denise Calls Up is at once prosaic and preposterous, playful and poignant. The main players are, for the most part, a wonderfully plain and unglamorous lot whose hesitant, wholly human performances contrast vividly with Sylvia Miles' flamboyant diva of death and Allana Ubach's forthright, free-spirited (and no doubt unemployed) title character, Denise. Salwen's movie is an affectionate one, filled with exasperating, endearing characters, funny dialogue, sweet romance, and an off-center core that moves the picture along in unexpected lurches, like one of those weighted balls that veers away from you just as you are about to catch it. It can be maddening, but it's fun.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Denise Calls Up, Hal Salwen, Tim Daly, Caroleen Feeney, Dan Gunther, Dana Sheeler Nicholson, Liev Schreiber, Aida Turturro, Allana Ubach, Sylvia Miles

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