Often, with a thriller, the motor for the plot really doesn’t matter that much. You might have seen North by Northwest half a dozen times and still not be able to remember what James Mason’s spy ring was up to or why. And while I think the denouement of The Game rings pretty hollow, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the ride on the way there.
Eagle Eye has something in common with both these movies – and with quite a few more actually – but in this case the plotting is so lame-brain it really does spoil the experience. At least, it did for me (it’s done well enough at the US box office, presumably with teenage Shia Labeouf fans who haven’t seen all the superior pictures this one rips off).
Labeouf is Jerry Shaw, a copyshop clerk who is the bad apple of his father’s eye. Out of nowhere, it seems, Jerry comes home to find his apartment stacked with hi-tech surveillance equipment, weaponry and bomb-making materials. It’s like a terrorist starter kit. His mobile rings. The female voice at the other end tells him he has just seconds to vacate the apartment. He fails to comply and is promptly arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist. But a few hours later he’s sprung from jail when a crane crashes through the wall of the tenth floor office where he’s being interrogated. Again, the voice on the phone urges him to get out. This time he does what he’s told.
Meanwhile similar bad stuff is happening to Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan): she’s just put her boy on the train for a trip with his band when the phone rings, and a voice tells her to follow instructions, or the train will crash. It sounds crazy, but the voice seems to be hard-wired into the electrical grid: she changes traffic lights at will, and can flash personal messages over digital billboards. Rachel is too scared to offer much resistance, and soon she has been teamed up with Jerry. Their first mission is to carry out an armed robbery. After that, things only get harder…
This opening half hour is quite exciting. There seems to be no reason for whoever is behind this conspiracy to have picked Jerry or Rachel, which makes their situation scarier, and it’s hard not to be impressed with the power of someone who can switch a green light to red, or change the direction of a subway car just like that.
Shia Labeouf is no Cary Grant, but he has an everyman quality you root for (he reminds me a little of Richard Dreyfus in his younger days). And despite her distracting resemblance to Wacko Jacko, Michelle Monaghan is believable as a distraught mom who will do anything to safeguard her son. Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson offer very solid support.
As it goes on, though, the movie’s premise gets stretched further and further until eventually it blows up in our faces. I won’t give away what happens, but I will say that it makes Absolutely No Sense. None Whatsoever.
Imagine, if you will, you’re playing chess with a computer, and it tries to distract your attention for a moment while it readjusts the pieces on the board – that’s the level of skullduggery we’re dealing with here.
I blame Steven Spielberg. Apparently the whole thing was his brainchild – something about wanting to do for technology what Jaws did for sharks. You have to feel at least a little sorry for the four writers who had the job of fleshing out his not-so-genius idea and turning it into a workable story. But not too sorry, because I’m sure they’ve been handsomely rewarded for cobbling together bits and pieces from Hitchcock (North by Northest, The Man Who Knew Too Much), The Manchurian Candidate, War Games, Enemy Of The State, Die Hard IV and 2001. There are even echoes of Transformers – or maybe I was just having a traumatic Shia flashback. The best action set piece, a chase through an airport baggage warehouse, may or may not be an allusion to Toy Story 2.
Director DJ Caruso made a much better fist of updating Rear Window into Disturbia last year. This time he does his worst Michael Bay impression – chopping film like it was mincemeat, as if swift and slick could camouflage dumb and idiotic. (I say this despite the film’s entirely palatable politics – which come packaged as an attack on the draconian Homeland Security measures instigated post 9/11. Liberals can make bad movies too.) In the wise words of Abe Lincoln, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
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