On the Line, 2022.
Written and Directed by Romuald Boulanger.
Starring Mel Gibson, Kevin Dillon, William Moseley, John Robinson, Nadia Farès, Alia Seror-O’Neill, Yoli Fuller, Yann Bean, Enrique Arce, Carole Weyers, Avant Strangel, John Robinson, and Paul Spera.
A host takes a call, where an unknown person threatens to kill the showman’s entire family on air. To save loved ones, the radio host will have to play a survival game and the only way to win is to find out the identity of the criminal.
Midnight-slot shock radio host Elvis Cooney (Mel Gibson) arrives at the Los Angeles-based broadcast building 15 minutes before showtime – the transition to the next day will also mark his birthday – where the night seems to be going off the rails in On the Line. An escaped mental patient shows up claiming to be the Messiah and begging to get on the airwaves to preach and spread awareness of his return, a rivalry is escalating between him and Kevin Dillon’s Justin, in possession of the coveted 8 PM starting time block, and someone has been stealing the computers.
Elvis has a habit of rubbing co-workers the wrong way but with the usual smarmy charm from Mel Gibson. Once the radio show begins – sitting opposite his co-host Mary (Alia Seror-O’Neill) and new hiree Dylan (William Moseley), Elvis also quickly emerges as a relatively entertaining guy to listen to as he walks callers through advice on several life problems. There’s also some mean-spirited hazing directed at the new guy for good measure.
Mel Gibson weaves together those characteristics (and some other flaws in his behavior that come to light) to portray a compelling character in a movie that doesn’t deserve his talent. I’m also aware some readers might disagree with that assessment based on their level of forgiveness for Mel Gibson as a human being, but trust when I say that On the Line is so tastelessly misguided that it doesn’t deserve any star power; the only thing the film deserves is to be buried somewhere where no one can find it.
After some normal calls (albeit interesting enough to keep us wondering if they come back into play later in the larger scope of the narrative), Elvis is connected to an unhinged man (Paul Spera) airing out controversial dirty secrets regarding his personal life that have come back to affect a loved one, who then goes on to threaten the lives of his wife and daughter assuring that he is outside their wealthy home and that he has already taken care of the guard dogs. Having served in Afghanistan, the diabolical psychopath also happens to be a demolitions expert that has hardwired the broadcast building to explode in 40 minutes.
The concept of a hostage situation done through a radio show starts off moderately suspenseful, but roughly 40 minutes in, On the Line begins stretching itself way beyond the scope of its immediate story and its bigger picture. Written and directed by Romuald Boulanger, the screenplay starts insulting itself, with the maniacal voice asking who came up with such B-grade movie plot devices.
Granted, there are reasons for this (oh yes, there are reasons, and it’s taking every bit of restraint in my willpower to avoid spoiling the trainwreck this film becomes), but they don’t offset how generic and bland the proceedings become. Some batshit nutty final 10 minutes also don’t do enough to recontextualize any of it since one is left aghast at what On the Line is attempting with games of consequence and cancel culture.
On the Line is never once good or grounded in logic, but usually tolerable in a dumb fun way that is elevated by Mel Gibson’s presence. Meanwhile, whoever thought the reveals would come anywhere close to working should be put on the line to answer for their cinematic crimes. They drain the goodwill from what there is to commend here. And while it is fitting for a film about shock radio to devolve into shock cinema, this is abysmal not because it wants to go to those places but more so that there is no sense behind whatever point the narrative is getting at. It’s shock value for the sake of shock, resulting in a shockingly stupid movie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com