Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Film Review of "EAGLE EYE" (2008)

The Steven Spielberg produced political suspense saga "Eagle Eye" (*** out of ****) careens recklessly like a runaway train throughout most of its 118 minutes. This sinister romantic action thriller about two ordinary people that stumble into the middle of a presidential assassination plot with 'Big Brother' surveillance technology monitoring their every move is predictable but exciting pabulum. Perfect strangers Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan collide quite by coincidence in a frenzy of complicated intrigue as well as non-stop action and find themselves racing against time to elude not only the FBI but also Military Intelligence so they can save America from its own cyberspace anti-terrorism defenses.

Nothing about this exhilarating epic is remotely believable. Moreover, you've seen enough of these paranoid, nail-biting thrillers by now to have a good idea what our heroes are pitted against. LaBeouf makes a rough-around-the-edges hero, while pretty Monaghan qualifies as the traditional woman-in-jeopardy who doesn't make a complete jackass of herself. As hopelessly derivative as "Eagle Eye" is, "Disturbia" director D.J. Caruso knows enough to pile every preposterous plot turn atop another like a forty car pile-up on a busy interstate.

The combined charisma of LaBeouf & Monahgan, with affable wattage from co-stars Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson, as well as its high-octane action scenes, helter-skelter spontaneity, and breathless momentum enables "Eagle Eye" to offset its hackneyed Hitchcockian thriller plots. The real drawback of "Eagle Eye" is its lack of a genuine flesh & blood villain; evil machines—a staple of paranoid science fiction fables—are the villains.

Remember the Stanley Kubrick classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) where the computer running the space ship went berserk and overrode human command. In one scene, the computer's camera read the lips of the astronauts that wanted to put it out of commission. The computer managed to kill one of them. Not only does "Eagle Eye" draw its inspiration from that scene in "2001," but also from a minor classic "Colossus: The Forbin Project" (1970) where evil, amok computers conspired against mankind to destroy civilization. Moreover, "Eagle Eye" pays homage to Tony Scott's paranoid chiller "Enemy of the State" with Will Smith about the electronic technology that allows our government to monitor every aspect of our lives. Indeed, "Eagle Eye" qualifies as the first truly supercharged 21st century exploration of "1984" government intrusion into our private lives.

Like every Alfred Hitchcock thriller about an everyday guy drawn into the vortex of a conspiracy, Shia LaBeouf fits the description. In a sense, his character is reminiscent of "Wanted" protagonist Wesley Allan Gibson who found himself in another world of assassins and death. As Jerry Shaw, LaBeouf works at a franchise copier store as a menial clerk, and he has trouble paying his rent on time. His marginal existence plunges him into oblivion almost immediately when he learns about the death of his twin brother, Ethan (LaBeouf in a dual role), a decorated U.S.A.F. Officer. Meanwhile, things aren't faring any better for Rachel . She has to pack her son Sam (Cameron Boyce) off on a train trip to a concert, and Sam's father infuriates her by arriving at the last minute to bid his son farewell. Rachel (Michelle Monaghan of "Constantine") receives a cell phone call that her son will die if she doesn't follow without question the orders of an anonymous voice.

At the same time, Jerry comes home to find his apartment stacked with an arsenal of illegal materials that every terrorist dreams they could have at their disposal. Moments before helmet-clad, machine gun-armed FBI agents barge into his apartment, Jerry receives a cell call that warns him about the G-men as well as his best means of escape. An incredulous Jerry balks and winds up in an interrogation room facing a skeptical Federal Agent Tom Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton of "The Astronaut Farmer") who wants to get to the bottom of all this nonsense. Basically, if "Eagle Eye" had been made a decade ago, either Tommy Lee Jones or Morgan Freeman would have been cast in the Morgan role. Smartly dressed Air Force investigator Zoe (Rosario Dawson of "Kids") wants to question Jerry, too.

The machinery of justice allows Jerry to make his one phone call. Before he knows what is happening the same anonymous voice orders him to hit the floor just moments before a crane smashes into the skyscraper room where he is being held and wipes out two walls. By the time Zoe and Morgan have the door open, our protagonist has flown the coop. When Jerry isn't listening to his cell phone, he receives directions from virtually any electronic device, such as scrolling text LED signs. At the heart of "Eagle Eye" is a virtual villain programmed to protect America's security from every possible contingency. This machine—think of the "Terminator" franchise—acts to carry out its prime directive and protect itself. The Defense Department houses this massive computer called 'Aria' that was invented to track, spy and calculate domestic terror risks. 'Aria' can take control of the most benign surveillance system and exploit it for its devilish designs.

"Eagle Eye" soars with excitement. Ignore its inconsistencies and its implausible plot and enjoy it for what it is—an entertaining popcorn movie.

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