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Dustin Putman

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Amber Alert  (2012)
2 Stars
Directed by Kerry Bellessa.
Cast: Chris Hill, Summer Bellessa, Jasen Wade, Caleb Thompson.
2012 – 80 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for thematic material and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 27, 2012.
The genesis of "Amber Alert" boiled down to one fascinating question: what if you saw a sign along the road alerting drivers of a possible child abduction only to moments later spot the wanted car with the matching license plate number? Most people would naturally call the police and be done with it, but for this film—the latest shoestring-budgeted found-footage horror-thriller—to work, first-time writer-director Kerry Bellessa and co-writer Joshua Oram must imagine the most negligent police force imaginable. No matter how many times 911 is called, law enforcement consistently prove by not showing up that they have little interest in catching the wanted perpetrator. It's a contrivance one could probably get over if it weren't for a number of other nagging seams that also break the spell of its supposed documentary feel. Little by little, Bellessa raises tension levels, culminating in a nail-biting finale. Alas, said suspense has less to do with the filmmaking and more to do with the viewer's frustration in the face of characters who make such moronic decisions they have to be seen to be believed. By the end, instead of thinking, "Hurry up! Get out of there!" one is more apt to think, "You dumbasses! You're so stupid you almost deserve to die!"

Nathan Riley (Chris Hill) and Samantha Green (Summer Bellessa) are best friends living in the Phoenix area who are going around shooting audition footage in an attempt to get cast on a reality show. With Samantha's younger brother Caleb (Caleb Thompson) behind the digital camera, the three of them set out to film an interview and end up involved in something much greater when they spot the grey Honda Accord mentioned in an Amber Alert notification along the highway. Nathan chalks it up to likely being a harmless domestic dispute, but Samantha is just as convinced that it could be something more serious. She calls the cops, then decides in the meantime that they should follow the car. That's as far as their plan goes until they learn definitively that the man wanted by police has, indeed, kidnapped a little girl.

"Amber Alert" is competently made for sure, but director Kerry Bellessa has done a poor job of reigning in his overly earnest actors. As they continue to follow the car, Nathan and Samantha bicker and argue to such a heightened degree that they become almost unbearably annoying. If given the choice between facing one's abductor head on and getting in a car with these two, most people would probably prefer to take their chances with the psychopath. The film also has some unexplained plot holes and inconsistencies, the most obvious being the lack of police presence. In reality, cops would waste no time swarming an area where a sighting of the wanted car is reported. It is additionally established later on that the Amber Alert has been called off, which makes no sense since a child has clearly been snatched. The viewer waits for an explanation for this, but never gets one. It all leads to Samantha's fateful decision to break into the kidnapper's house to rescue the child when he goes out for snacks. Sure, it's a scary situation, but also exceedingly dumb on the protagonists' parts. "Amber Alert" is less exploitative than the title suggests, but too far-fetched to buy into the characters' cockamamie actions. There is, perhaps, a smart film to be made on the same frightening subject. This isn't it.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman