Film reviews and more since 2009

On the Line (2022) review

Dir. Romuald Boulanger

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve seen a movie revolving around radio. As a full-time, professional radio DJ for nearly six years, it’s a relief to see that the medium can still be the basis of a compelling and unorthodox little thriller.

I’m not going to critique the minute details of On the Line, although I envy how swiftly and easily its protagonist sets up a live/remote broadcast with mere headphones and a microphone. I promise I won’t express intense jealousy that the very same protagonist has one person acting as both as a switchboard operator and contributing producer on his show, and another who screens calls, for his show that begins at the witching hour. The holy grail radio movie has already been made by Oliver Stone in 1988. As far as I’m concerned, the rest are just dressing on a niche salad in cinema that is diverse and mostly tasty.

On the Line adds flavor because, if nothing else, it is predicated upon the unwritten rule of radio. Revealing that rule would spoil the movie. If you’re in the club, you should be able to complete this sentence: “everything in radio is ____.”

The film revolves around Elvis Cooney (Mel Gibson), a man whose name alone makes him the perfect choice for his line of work. He’s a late-night shock jock, the last of a dying breed, and the opening scene shows him as a devoted family man with a young daughter. When he arrives at the studio, however, he’s cocky, combative, and unapologetically brash. He balks at the idea that he should incorporate social media into his show, and he struggles to remember the security guard’s name.

Alongside his new, inexperienced call-screener, Dylan (William Moseley), and his right-hand producer, Mary (Alia Seror O’Neill), Elvis opens the mic for what should be another routine show. That belief screeches to a halt when Gary (voiced by Paul Spera) phones and claims to have kidnapped Elvis’ wife and daughter. Gary has called into the show with the intent to play a vicious cat-and-mouse game that later results in the entire radio station being armed with explosives.

The entire event plays over the airwaves in a way that stretches the boundaries of believability, specifically in the regard that the station itself would be swimming in FCC fines due to the reckless abundance of profanity exchanged between Elvis and Gary. This is, of course, providing that Dylan’s finger and reflexes weren’t getting a workout from excessive use of the godsent “dump” button.

Writer/director Romuald Boulanger and cinematographer Xavier Castro do justice in making this setting come alive. On the Line makes compelling use of its high-rise building, in which the radio station is located. It turns an otherwise conventional downtown building into a labyrinth of long hallways, closets, and offices. I’ve never seen a radio station that doesn’t look eerie at night, and the KLAT building is no exception. Moody ambiance exists with Castro’s reliance on deep blues and ominous shadows.

Much has been made about the twist ending, as is the case with thrillers that rely heavily on a bait-and-switch. There’s an admirable quality to a film that’s reveal is simultaneously shocking yet impressively simple. Once more, it goes back to a long-running unwritten adage of radio that persists to this day. If it hadn’t made such strong use of its setting, nor featured Gibson in a strong role, capable of doing the heavy-lifting of a film that rests on his shoulders, it might not have worked as well. Like the radio industry itself, good movies about the medium are far from dead.

NOTE: As of this writing, On the Line is available to stream on Netflix.

Starring: Mel Gibson, William Moseley, Alia Seror O’Neill, Kevin Dillon, Enrique Arce, Nadia Farès, Paul Spera, and Nancy Tate. Directed by: Romuald Boulanger.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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