Skip to content

ON THE LINE (2022) review

November 3, 2022


written by: Romuald Boulanger
produced by: Robert Ogden Barnum, Romuald Boulanger, James Cooney & Marc Frydman
directed by: Romuald Boulanger
rated: R (for language throughout and some violent content)
runtime: 104 min.
U.S. release date: November 4, 2022


Mel Gibson as a shock jock sounds like something that we could’ve seen back in the 90s, after something like “Ransom” where he played a wealthy father who would do anything to get back his kidnapped son…except pay the ransom. But in this post-controversy phase of his career, where so many are surprised that he’s still getting cast in movies, one would think he’d be more selective in his material, maybe choosing roles that would require him to stretch his acting chops (like he did in 2011’s “The Beaver” and 2018’s “Dragged Across Concrete”), but lately he’s closing in on territory claimed by Bruce Willis, by showing up in bit parts of crappy movies. While he’s still capable of delivering something good and really different (see 2020’s “Fatman” as a prime example), unfortunately his latest lead role as a late-night radio host in writer/director Romuald Boulanger’s “On the Line” doesn’t provide viewers with anything new or different for the actor.

Gibson starts off committed and eager, but then “On the Line” veers into a meta depiction of how most people see Gibson today, which becomes distractingly on-the-nose, in a movie that closes with a couple annoying mic drops.

Boulanger tries to be clever as the movie opens, by offering the first of many red herrings as his camera lingers on what we think is a puddle of blood on a kitchen floor as we approach a seemingly distraught Gibson from behind. Despite what we’re meant to believe (it doesn’t really work, since it’s never convincing), Gibson’s character, Elvis Cooney, is simply playing pretend with his precocious young daughter Adria (Romy Pointet) before her bedtime. Before we know it, he’s tucking her in and kissing his younger wife, Olivia (Nancy Tate), goodbye before asking her if she’s going to be listening to his 10pm radio show. She feigns interest and states she’ll catch it later, giving us the idea that she’s never listened to his show. As he gets into his Mustang and drives through empty Los Angeles streets, while the only other traffic are the opening credits to the tune of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Snow (Hey Oh)”, for some reason. He seemingly creates his own parking spot right in front of the high-rise building that’s home to his KLAT studio, and proceeds to walk in and ask the security guard at the front desk if he’s excited for tonight’s show. Is this guy insecure? Does he ask everyone he encounters if they’re listening to his radio show?



Another red herring literally enters the building as Elvis is talking to the security guard he has to call “Bob”, since he can’t fathom wrapping his brain around saying the guy’s lengthy Indian name (a not-so-subtle, eye-rolling hint at racism), when a long-haired skinny white dude (John Robinson) walks into the lobby, takes off his shirt and claims to be the Messiah. The scene is de-escalated when Elvis appeases the mentally unstable young man and we’re supposed to believe this will play out later on, but we know it’s so obvious that it won’t, thankfully.

Pretty soon, we’ll see his boss (Nadia Farès) call Elvis in to her office and complain that the sexagenarian is awful at social media (translation: he has no presence) and his show’s rating’s are spiraling downward. Unphased, it would seem such news is a broken record to Elvis. But, maybe deep down that’s why he’s desperate for listeners or maybe because this night’s shift will be rolling right into his birthday and he’s feeling unseen as well as unheard. Boulanger’s screenplay isn’t delving into such introspection or existential dread. Instead, we’ll see Gibson play the kind of “raw” talk show host that nobody listens to anymore, since barely anyone listens to the radio, let alone anything playing at ten o’clock at night.

In the studio, as his show is about to begin, Elvis is joined by his switchboard operator, Mary (Alia Seror O’Neill), and a new producer, Dylan (William Moseley), a green Brit from across the pond who’s awkwardness shows just how unsure he is about working with the temperamental personality. As the calls come in begin, Elvis dispenses his advice and opinions, as listeners are subjected to his lacerating wit. Soon enough, he’s confronted with a requisite weird caller in Gary (Paul Spera), who starts off as heavy breather and soon exhibits unstable behavior. We learn that Gary is ex-military man and when he cuts to the chase and tells Elvis that he is going to make him suffer for driving his friend, a former female employee, to suicide because of the cruel things he said about her. Determined to make Elvis pay on air, Gary has orchestrated a night of torture for Elvis, kidnapping his wife and daughter Adria and forcing the host to find them before the kidnapper follows through with killing them. It sounds like a plot from a 90s thriller (perhaps starring Kevin Spacey), doesn’t it? Either that, or a two-part episode of “Chicago P.D.”.



Gibson is playing a fast-talking, quippy character who’s an easy target for such threats. In a world where such problematic personalities are getting cancelled daily, it’s hard to believe such an incorrigible and insensitive host is still on the air. It doesn’t help that the material Gibson works with here is one-dimensional with no potential to see any humanity or nuance in his character. Elvis is combative with just about everyone and makes a scene when he confronts another host (Kevin Dillon), who has the coveted time slot before his. He plays family man at home, but he goes to work and bristly spews out cut-and-paste responses to callers seeking help or at least an understanding ear. Gibson’s deep gravely voice has the right sound for late-night radio, but he’s playing a character here who’s too close to the Gibson that’s wound up in the headlines within the past decade and that winds up being kind of distracting. It’s as if Boulanger asked him to show up and be himself, or at least act how people think he truly is.

There’s an overall simplicity to the way the screenplay once “On the Line” gets to the intensity between Elvis and his threatening caller. A abrupt disruption that could be seen as comeuppance for Gibson’s Elvis. Because we see no other dimension to his character, he’s seen as an abuser who’s getting what’s coming to him. It’s hard to feel bad for him and it’s a challenge to see this as what should be a palpable thriller, since every actor is operating in a one-note range. Once Elvis and his co-workers are out of the studio and engaging in a convoluted cat-and-mouse game that finds Elvis and Dylan running around the building, the plot becomes tiring and less interesting, even when there’s inevitable bomb threats mentioned. More than once, I found myself wondering why Elvis has Dylan tagging along with him and when it becomes lazily clear why during the story’s supposed surprise ending reveal, it’s just too late and I didn’t care.

If anything, the ending of “On the Line” reminds us something we often forget, that time is precious and there’s unfortunately no getting it back. This is a story that should’ve gone harder, like Oliver Stone’s “Talk Radio” back in 1988 or at least something akin to a disturbing “Black Mirror” episode. Instead we get the VOD hybrid of a Scooby-Doo rerun crossed with an episode of Punk’d. Zoinks.



RATING: *1/2

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: