John Travola is a lineman for the county, and he drives the main road — through very, very familiar territory — in “Life on the Line,” an uninspired time-killer that, while purportedly “based on actual events,” plays like a by-the-numbers aggregation of shopworn clichés. There’s a ’70s TV-movie vibe to the entire enterprise, an impression reinforced by the stock characters — including such staples as a troubled former combatant (in this case, an Iraq War veteran, not a Vietnam vet) and a courageous crew of troubleshooters — and an episodic structure that seems ready-made for commercial breaks. The narrative is so predictable that, when an outburst of trash-talking doesn’t escalate into a barroom brawl, it’s not just surprising, it’s pretty close to shocking.
And speaking of shocking: Electrocution appears to be just one of the occupational hazards facing the Texas linemen led by Beau Ginner (Travolta), a demanding foreman who jolts new recruits with a slideshow illustrating the potentially fatal consequences of carelessness on the job. Beau learned the lessons he teaches the hard way: Years earlier, his brother and fellow lineman died in the line of duty while correcting one of Beau’s mistakes. Since then, he has divided his time between keeping a close eye on his men as he and they maintain the electrical grid, and a closer eye on his late brother’s daughter, Bailey (Kate Bosworth), who has grown up to be a bright young woman with college (maybe) in her future.
Naturally, Bailey has a boyfriend — Duncan (Devon Sawa), a moody hunk from the poor side of town — and, just as naturally, Beau disapproves of the guy. When Duncan applies for work with the electric company and is assigned to Beau’s crew — yes, you guessed it — sparks fly. But the two men eventually are forced to set aside their differences when a big storm knocks out all power in the area. And if you also guessed that the blackout occurs just when Bailey is in mortal danger, congratulations: You’ve obviously seen at least as many movies as Primo Brown, Marvin Peart, and Peter I. Horton, the scriptwriters credited for “Life on the Line.”
Director David Hackl, who has three “Saw” movies on his résumé, generates some mild suspense during the third act as various subplots converge and a mood-swinging psycho (not Jigsaw, alas) makes a nuisance of himself. But he evidently left the actors to their own devices, perhaps in the hope that they could flesh out their thinly written roles. Sharon Stone gamely rises to the challenge as she plays Duncan’s alcoholic mom. One can’t help suspecting, however, that the character drinks excessively only to wash down the scenery she is chewing.