Salamanca, Spain. The President of the US of A (William Hurt) is in town to sign a new international security accord. At his side: secret servicemen Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) and Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), back on active duty after taking a bullet for the Prez the year before. Among the crowd gathered to witness this historic event we find tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), a local cop (Eduardo Noriega), and a couple of suspiciously Middle Eastern-looking types (Said Taghmaoui, Ayelet Zurer).
President Ashton is just about to speak when he's felled by an assassin's bullet. A subsequent bomb blast rocks the entire square, but not before Barnes believes he's got a lead on the perpetrator(s).
It's at this point - about 20 minutes in - that you might wonder if the projectionist has hit the wrong button because the movie starts running backwards, then begins all over again. Sadly, it's the same unconvincing set up, the same befuddled actors, and the same sorry result, it's just that this time we get a slightly different emphasis, and a few more grains of information.
Vantage Point has been described as a B-movie Rashomon, a reference to the landmark Akira Kurosawa film that brought Japanese cinema to international attention through its philosophically-compelling narrative gimmick of telling the same event from competing points of view.
Despite the name, Vantage Point only flirts with this notion. Six or seven times the movie restarts with a different principal character, but it doesn't restrict itself to that person's point of view and the time frame gradually expands to take the story forwards.
It would be pleasing to report that at least the film offers up different perspectives on the central act of terrorism. If, for instance, the perpetrators were allowed to convey some semblance of humanity, or at least a coherent political conviction, the movie might have been justified. But that's not the case; the politics here are even more jumbled than the Bourne-again editing. The President expresses noble sentiments about breaking out of the cycle of violence, but the terrorists (played by a French-Algerian, an Israeli and a Venezuelan) operate without scruple and, in at least one case, without any credible motivation whatsoever.
Even on the most basic level, Vantage Point doesn't bother to make sense. Characters behave inconsistently and implausibly, and Travis throws in a hyper-drive car chase through the medieval streets of the city that would doubtless leave scores of dead in its wake in reality. The crudely staged climax pivots on just this kind of hypocrisy, and comes off as sentimental and trite.
Still, it's a B-movie all right, no matter which way you look at.
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