Wednesday, October 1, 2008


"Resident Evil" director Paul W.S. Anderson's "Death Race"(**1/2 out of ****) a mean-spirited remake of the campy carmageddon classic "Death Race 2000" (1975) with David Carradine, lacks the imaginative of its predecessor but has its share of exciting scenes. "Death Race 2000" depicted a nationally sanctioned, no-holds-barred, coast-to-coast marathon where motorists racked up points for hitting pedestrians. Whereas director Paul Bartel's "Death Race 2000" amounted to a cheesy political satire, Anderson's straight-forward remake is an exercise in sadism that confines its race to an island prison with no innocent bystanders to kill. This nihilistic, R-rated, nonsense boasts a bigger budget, souped-up special effects, and a stellar cast led by lean, mean Jason Statham whose six-pack ripped physique is covered with tattoos. A bullet-riddled, testosterone-driven, high-octane fueled, B-movie motor rally extravaganza, "Death Race" not only pays tribute to the unforgettable Carradine classic but also pays tribute to "The Condemned," "The Running Man," "Escape from Alcatraz," "Goldfinger," and "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior."

"Death Race" takes place in the year 2012 after the U.S. economy has collapsed. Unemployment and crime rage out of control. The government has sold all prison over to the private sector. At Terminal Island, for example, the prison administration began broadcasting pay-per-view cage fights. Audiences, however, lost interest in them, so evil Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen of "The Bourne Supremacy") created a lethal, closed circuit car race. Each auto bristles with guns, rockets, and explosives like those in "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior." The undisputed racing champ is an indestructible legend called Frankenstein. We never get a glimpse of Frankenstein's face, but David Carradine provides the voice. Carradine portrayed Frankenstein in "Death Race 2000." The infamous Frankenstein has been injured so often that he wears a mask. As the action unfolds, Frankenstein dies in a spectacular crash, but Warden Hennessey keeps his death a closely-guarded secret. Some 45 million viewers pay between $99 and $250 to watch Hennessey's three day death race, and she isn't about to jeopardize her high ratings with news about Frankenstein's death.

Hennessey dispatches her vilest inmate, Pachenko (Max Ryan of "Kiss of the Dragon"), to track down former NASCAR driver Jenson Ames. Pachenko stabs Ames' wife Suzy (Janaya Stephens) to death and frames the unsuspecting Jenson for her murder. Six months later, Ames (Jason Statham) draws a life sentence and Hennessey pulls strings to land him on Terminal Island. Terminal Island resembles Alcatraz, except a bridge links it with the mainland. Hennessey convinces Ames to don Frankenstein's mask. Hennessey promises to release Jensen if he impersonates Frankenstein and wins one more race. Jenson had a baby daughter Piper, and the despicable Hennessey holds Piper's welfare over Jenson's head. Nevertheless, Hennessey plants an explosive charge under Jensen's car in case he tries to double-cross her.

Coach (British actor Ian McShane of HBO's "Deadwood" with his sinister raccoon eyebrows) and his multi-cultural crew maintains Frankenstein's Ford V-8, fastback Mustang that shares many features with James Bond's Aston-Martin. Hennessey imports buxom babes from a nearby women's prison to serve as navigators for the drivers on an elaborate race course that she has laid out on the prison's premises. Frankenstein's closest rival, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson of "2 Fast 2 Furious"), is a pugnacious black homosexual who draws his navigators from the prison's all male population. Machine Gun has triumphed in three races. Joe needs only two more wins before he can obtain his freedom and retire to Miami. The problem is that the treacherous Warden Hennessey hates to keep her word to anybody.

"Death Race" wallows in violent, anti-social behavior. Armor-plated automobiles careen through the prison grounds with desperate drivers blasting away at each other with rockets and machine guns galore. Life in cheap in Terminal Island and the most perfidious person at the prison is Warden Hennessey who abhors profanity but spouts her fair share. Unfortunately, this predictable story has been retreaded so often that the complications outnumber the surprises. Whereas Paul Bartel's "Death Race" was funny but ferocious, Anderson's spin is simply ferocious with characters scheming to defeat their rivals. The hero, Jenson Ames, wins our sympathy on two counts. He has an infant daughter and we know that Pachenko framed him for his wife's murder. Everybody else on Terminal Island hasn't a shred of dignity. The guards are baton-wielding sadists and Warden Hennessey rivals Linda Fletcher's Oscar winning turn as Nurse Ratched in the Jack Nicholson masterpiece "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Clocking in at a ballistic 89 minutes, "Death Race" runs only marginally longer than its 82-minute predecessor. Anderson never squanders a second and delivers thrills, chills, and a surprise or two along the way. Unfortunately, he seems to have set his sights lower with this formulaic $45 million epic after helming superior sagas such as "Resident Evil" and "AVP: Alien Vs. Predator." While the "Death Race" women aren't the primary focus of the plot, Anderson has cast talented Joan Allen as a sadistic, domineering prison warden. She rules her realm with an iron hand and a double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun concealed in the knee-hole of her desk. "Death Race" suffers from at least one inconsistency. A warning sign on the wall of the prison dining hall proclaims the warning that no warning shots will be fired. When the guards quell a fight between Jensen and Pachenko, they warn them that they will fire. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, "Death Race" qualifies as an adequate popcorn movie for people who love big, dumb, action epics.


"Fried Green Tomatoes" director Jon Avnet's new movie "Righteous Kill" qualifies as far from righteous. This gritty whodunit about corrupt cops with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino suffers from quite possibly the worst screenplay in film history. Some of Jean-Claude Van Damme's straight-to-video martial arts thrillers surpass this nonsense. "Inside Man" scenarist Russell Gewirtz gets it all wrong. Gewirtz takes the "Dirty Harry" sequel "Magnum Force" and rewrites it as an Agatha Christie mystery for tough guys. Indeed, sixty-five year old Robert De Niro quotes "Dirty Harry" at an Internal Affairs hearing when he observes, "Nothing wrong with a little shooting, as long as the right people get shot." Clearly, De Niro and Pacino made this clunker with its sloppy, incoherent, convoluted, unbelievable script for the bucks. "Righteous Kill" lacks excitement, suspense, and creativity. The eleventh hour revelation of the killer is so incredibly contrived that you wonder how they could have foisted this pathetic potboiler onto movie audiences. Everybody who buys a ticket to watch this tawdry tedium is expecting something as good as--if not better than--the two previous De Niro & Pacino pictures. Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather, Part 2" won a Best Picture Oscar in 1975, while "Miami Vice" creator Michael Mann's urban crime thriller "Heat" ranks as one of the great law & order epics. Righteous Kill" is, simply put, righteously ill in its criminal abuse of a stellar cast including Carla Gugino, Brian Dennehy, 50 Cent, John Leguizamo, Barry Primus, and Donnie Wahlberg, not to mention the hour and forty minutes that you'll waste watching it.

"Righteous Kill" involves vigilante justice. Several unsavory citizens die in this R-rated opus. A serial killer guns down a black drug dealer (Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson), a white rapist (Terry Serpico), a child killer (Frank John Hughes), a pedophile Catholic priest (Malachy McCourt) , a pimp, and a Russian wrestler (Oleg Taktarov) in cold-blood. The same killer leaves a poem on a card at each homicide. Talk about poetic justice! Homicide Detectives Thomas Cowan (Robert De Niro) and David Fisk (Al Pacino) have been partners for 30 years in the New York Police Department. An Internal Affairs investigator comments that Cowan & Fisk are closer than Lennon & McCartney. These two profane, sharp-shooting, tough-talking veterans have witnessed the seamy side of life and eventually it affects their mindset. Cowan and Fisk had to stand by helplessly while the courts cleared a child killer from a crime that he committed. A self-righteous Cowan plants evidence that convicts the child killer of another crime to put him behind bars. Cowan behaves like "Dirty Harry" and his partner Fisk describes him aptly as "a pit-bull on crack." Initially, Cowan and Fisk have no luck catching the serial killer and Detectives Simon Perez (John Leguizamo of "The Rock") and Ted Riley (Donnie Wahlberg of "Saw 2") join their investigation when one of their cases coincides with our heroes. Cowan and Perez hate each other because they have been bedding down a nymphomaniacal Crime Scene forensics expert, Karen Corelli (Carla Gugino of "American Gangster"), who loves rough sex. No matter what they do to solve the case, they cannot crack it, until Fisk suggests that the killer is a cop. Cowan suspects a disgruntled cop busted off the force has the motive. Meanwhile, the feud between Perez and Cowan fuels Perez's belief that Cowan is the murderer. Cowan admits he knew the priest and Lieutenant Hingis (a shrunken looking Brian Dennehy of "Silverado") puts him on a desk and allows the younger detectives to engineer a sting that will expose Cowan. Cowan's partner Fisk laughs in Hingis' face as well at Perez and Fisk.

Things begin to fall into place when one victim, the Russian, survives the killer's three bullets and the N.Y.P.D. guards his hospital room. The best mysteries give audiences the chance to figure them out. "Righteous Kill" deprives us crucial background material that would have made it far easier to fathom the killer's identity. Instead, Gewirtz and Avnet treat us to scenes where our heroes rarely get into any dangerous predicaments. Avnet stages a clumsy shoot out in an African-American nightspot, but every time somebody dies in "Righteous Kill" the crime is shown from the killer's perspective. Repeatedly, what you don't see and what you're not told about the protagonists keeps you in the dark. For example, we know De Niro and Pacino's characters only by their nicknames. The filmmakers refuse to establish the identities of either De Niro or Pacino from the start. The criminal investigation takes weird turns and red herrings—things designed to distract us—appear everywhere. Actually, the best clue to the killer's identity is broached early in the action, but you won't pay any attention to it because it seems to have little relevance.

Television series like CBS-TV's three "C.S.I." shows make this big-budget Hollywood whodunit look sophomoric. At one point, Lt. Hingis asks our heroes if they want to retire because they aren't making any headway. Neither Cowan nor Fisk are prepared to back down from this challenge, even if it means disaster for them. In that moment, De Niro and Pacino behave like 'Grumpy Old Cops' out to solve one last crime. Watching "Righteous Kill" will give you a bad case of the N.Y.P.D. Blues.


Samuel L. Jackson doesn't know how to give a bad performance, but his choice of movies raises some questions. "Wicker Man" director Neil LeBute's suburban crime thriller "Lakeview Terrace" (* out of ****) qualifies as a predictable, PG-rated melodrama that draws its inspiration from a real-life case of racism where an African-American cop harassed interracial couples in Los Angeles. This disposable,depressing, one-dimensional character study in villainy casts Jackson as a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who doesn't cotton to his new next door neighbors, a twentysomething interracial couple without a clue. For the record, "Hancock" star Will Smith sank some of his dough into this heavy-handed hokum.

Chris (Patrick Wilson of "Hard Candy") and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington of "Ray") have just bought their first house. Chris manages a grocery store and Lisa sits around the house drawing pictures when she isn't forgetting to take her birth control pills. She wants a child to mellow out her racist father Harold Perreau (Ron Glass of "Barney Miller") who didn't approve of her daughter's decision to marry a white bread yuppie. Movies have come a long way since the 1967 classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" where Sidney Poitier married a white girl. Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac appeared in the abysmal remake "Guess Who" that reversed everything so that white guy Kutcher could wed black girl Zoe Saldana. Everybody got along in these classic as well as less-than-classic movies. No sooner have Chris and Lisa moved in than they aggravate single-parent cop Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson of "Pulp Fiction") who doesn't take kindly to their liberal-minded antics.

Abel raises teenager daughter Celia (Regine Nehy of "Pride") and young son Marcus (TV actor Jasihon Fisher) without the benefit of a mother. Abel reveals later to Chris that his wife died in a traffic accident under suspicious circumstances that he hasn't quite reconciled himself to three years later. Abel rules his kids like a tyrant. Not only does he correct Celia's slang-ridden grammar at the breakfast table but he also reprimands her for wearing her iPod every waking moment. Similarly, he doesn't cut Marcus any slack. Not surprisingly, both Celia and Marcus are overjoyed when they get a break from dad to spend time with a relative. Meanwhile, Abel explains to his green, Hispanic partner Javier Villareal (Jay Hernandez of the "Hostel" horror flicks) that he moved his family out of the troubled ghettos where he grew up so that they would have a better life. Abel keeps a tight lid on his patrol area, just as most cops in crime movies do, playing criminals off against other to maintain law and order. Abel has an obese white drug dealer Clarence (Keith Loneker of "Leatherheads") under his thumb and protects Clarence because he serves as an informant.

Abel and the Mattson's get off on the wrong foot. Abel welcomes Chris by pulling a fake carjacking while our protagonist sits in his parked car in his own driveway listening to hip-hop music. Afterward, Abel advises Chris that no matter how loud or how long he plays hip-hop it will never made him black. Chris smokes secretly in his car because Lisa won't let him smoke in their house. He aggravates things when he thumps his cigarette butts on Abel's lawn. Abel's blinding security home lights keep the Mattsons from sleeping since they don't have curtains. Chris talks to Abel but gets nowhere. Things really derail because the Mattson's have a backyard swimming pool that Celia and Marcus would die to swim in but Abel doesn't want them hobnobbing with the neighbors. Anyway, the Abel's kids play peeping toms one evening when Chris and Lisa have sex in their swimming pool. Abel objects to this behavior and the incidents intensify. Our heroes awaken to their car alarm, rush down to their garage, and discover the tires on their sedan have been slashed. Abel discusses the situation with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies who responded to the Mattson's call and a Sheriff's Deputy remarks that they are lucky because they live next door to a cop.

"Lakeview Terrace" shares a lot in common with the paranoid Michael Keaton thriller "Pacific Heights." No matter what our heroes do, Abel beats them to the punch, until his own people—LAPD Internal Affairs—give him the third degree for roughing up a young African-American male, Damon Richards (Jada Pinkett Smith's younger brother Caleeb Pinkett of "Charmed"), who tried to blast Abel with a pump action shotgun during a domestic disturbance at an apartment complex. Internal Affairs investigator Lieutenant Morgada (Eva La Rue of CBS-TV's "C.S.I. Miami") and her colleague warn Abel that they are watching him.

Jackson smolders with rage in this combustible movie because he doesn't approve of a white guy playing house with a black girl. Jackson's performance is about the only thing worth watching because his co-stars barely make an impression as a sympathetic couple that have to contend with his cruel shenanigans. Indeed, the sympathetic couple are pretty boring. Since the bad cop doesn't have a moral leg to stand on, it is just a matter of time until he makes his fatal mistake. In other words, the short-sighted David Loughery and Howard Korder's screenplay boasts few surprises. Loughery's less-than-impressive writing credits include "Money Train" and "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," while Howard Korder has penned the TV movie "Stealing Sinatra" and "The Passion of Ayn Rand." None of their screenplays have amounted to much so it's no surprise that "Lakeview Terrace" is such a woofer. Basically, neither director Neil LeBute nor his scenarists have brought a shred of imagination to a potentially explosive but superficial saga. If you've seen the trailer for "Lakeview Terrace," you've seen more than enough to know that this objectionable opus is worth neither your time nor your money.


"No Country for Old Men" directors Joel and Ethan Coen's uneven, overwrought, misanthropic comedy of errors "Burn After Reading" (* out of ****) should have been burned after they made it. Remember, the Coen Brothers won the 2008 Best Picture Oscar for their inspired but violent account of an indestructible hit-man who methodically tracked down his victims and killed them without a qualm. As their first feature since "No Country for Old Men, "Burn After Reading" radiates barely a modicum of the customary Coen luminosity. The fourteenth movie that the two brothers have helmed together struggles to be as side-splitting as either "The Big Lebowski" or "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou." Instead, this forgettable farce turns out to be as mirthless as two previous Coen misfires "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Intolerable Cruelty." "Burn After Reading" opens like a Tom Clancy techno-thriller. An orbiting spy satellite camera zooms into the Chesapeake Bay area on the East Coast, penetrates the cloud cover and pinpoints C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. A bow-tied, bald-headed, Princeton-educated, career C.I.A. analyst, Osborne 'Ozzie' Cox (John Malkovich of "Being John Malkovich"), explodes with rage when his boss (David Rasche of "An Innocent Man") relieves him of his duties on the Balkans desk and shuffles him off to a lower security grade State Department post. The volatile Cox spews profanity when his colleagues attribute his inferior job performance to alcoholism. Cox quits the C.I.A. rather than being reassigned. As he storms out of the room, he vows to pen a tell-all memoir. Later, every time we see Ozzie working on his memoirs, he clutches a drink in his fist.

The scene shifts to Hardbodies Fitness Center. Personal trainer Linda Litzke (Oscar-winning Frances McDormand of "Fargo") plans to have a number of surgical cosmetic procedures performed on her flabby physique. "I have gone as far as I can with this body," she whines to her plastic surgeon. She is looking for somebody to date on the Internet and she hates her appearance. When her company insurance refuses to cover these elective operations, Linda blows a gasket. Although she isn't pleased with herself, her Hardbodies boss Ted (Richard Jenkins of "Step Brothers") drools whenever he is around her. Linda calls him her friend and then all but ignores him. Another Hardbodies trainer, bimbo-brained Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt of "Ocean's Twelve") who wears his iPod like jewelry, discovers an anonymous computer disc left in the ladies locker room that contains Ozzie's C.I.A. secrets. Against Ted's wishes, Linda and Chad blackmail Ozzie for $50-thousand dollars so Linda can pay for her four procedures. Meanwhile, Ozzie's ice princess of a wife Katie (Oscar winning Tilda Swinton of "Michael Clayton") indulges in an extramarital fling with a married but philandering U.S. Marshal Harry Pfarrer (a bearded George Clooney of "Leatherheads") who constructs mechanical sex machines in his spare time. Pfarrer is married to a successful children's author, Sally (Elizabeth Marvel), who hates the dinner parties that Harry takes her to at Katie's house. Not surprisingly, Ozzie refuses to pay Linda and Chad a dime so Linda approaches officials in the Russian Embassy. Meanwhile, Katie locks Ozzie out of their house and begins divorce proceedings.

Ensemble piece that it is, "Burn After Reading" meanders from one quirky character's complications to another in a haphazard manner. The Coen's erratic script for this farcical but violent yarn about a group of largely unsavory dimwits that make moronic fools of themselves seethes with irony. Surprisingly, the Coens seem to have taken leave of their comic senses because their sophisticated humor falls flat on its face. Moreover, in their efforts to drum up laughs, co-stars Brad Pitt and George Clooney deliver performances that verge on epilepsy. Tilda Swinton is particularly rude and hostile as a pediatrician with the bedside manner of a crocodile. She has no problem bossing around either Ozzie or Harry, but she cannot get a child to take its medicine. Pathetic, selfish, delusional cretins populate "Burn After Reading" and they refuse to accept reality. For example, Linda believes that if you think positive thoughts that positive things will happen. Indeed, this eclectic gallery of characters qualifies more as caricatures. Since we feel little sympathy toward them, the trials and tribulations that they endure to attain their goals rarely prompts anything more than a smirk or two.

Ultimately, "Burn After Reading" devotes more time to infidelity rather than of espionage. This hyperactive but less-than-hilarious hokum qualifies as a failure on multiple levels. Ham-fisted performances, poor plotting, labored jokes, and sudden lapses of violence spoil what might have been a neat little bit of nothing.


Not only are Alex and Stephen Kendrick brothers, but they're also the media and teaching pastors at Sherwood Church of Albany in Georgia. The Sherwood Baptist Church congregation has been financing films, such as "Flywheel" (2003) and "Facing the Giants" (2006), and volunteers act in these low-budget productions. "Facing the Giants" dealt with a losing Christian high school football coach under pressure to win games, while "Flywheel" concerned a morally unscrupulous car dealer who swindled his customers, verbally abused his spouse, and neglected his son. In "Fireproof" (* out of ****) the Kendricks tackle the marital woes of twenty-somethings. The metaphor for marriage that the brothers invoke is drilled into every fireman in the Albany, Georgia, Fire Department: 'Never leave your partner behind.' Like all their movies, the Kendrick Brothers want to spread the word of Christ on celluloid to save souls, so prepare yourself for some immaculate Christian propaganda.

Gung-ho workaholic Fire Chief Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron of "Left Behind: the Movie") and his pretty brunette hospital P.R. wife Catherine (Erin Bethea of "Facing the Giants") are struggling to maintain their marriage after seven years. Catherine doesn't spend enough time shopping for them at the grocery store, and sex-starved Caleb spends too much time surfing Internet porn sites. She can get neither a wheelchair nor a hospital bed for her stroke-stricken mom. When she isn't at the hospital, Catherine spends every weekend at her parents' house. Meanwhile, callous Caleb dreams of owning his own boat. Each confides in their friends that the other is impossible to live with and each claims that the other doesn't realize all the pain that they have stirred up. Worse, our hero and heroine don't go to Sherwood Baptist Churchill, and their future happiness as a couple is doomed unless they become Christians.

During one of Caleb's temper tantrums, hubby gets up in his wifey's face, and Catherine utters the D word—divorce—because he scares her. Along comes Caleb's born-again, evangelical father John Holt (Harris Malcolm), who endures a four-hour drive to see junior. John presents Caleb with a 40-day Biblically-inspired "Love Dare" manual to mend marriages with scriptures. Dear old, white-haired dad assures junior in solemn tones that the manual succeeded for mom and he. Caleb refuses to discuss God, but he is desperate enough to try the manual. Twenty days later, Caleb witnesses no visible change in his wife's adamant attitude. In fact, Catherine suspects everything that he is doing is designed to make her look bad in divorce court! Moreover, Caleb doesn't know that Catherine is flirting with a physician, Dr. Anderson (Walter Burnett of "Flywheel"), who is separated from his own wife. Caleb is at his wit's end. He's brought her cheap flowers, stopped arguing with her, and washed the dishes. Caleb's black firefighting buddy tells him to stop acting like a pinch-penny. Eventually, Caleb converts to Christianity and suddenly everything is roses. He wins Catherine back, and they reaffirm their vows as Christians and they live happily ever after.

Just about all movies—Hollywood or independent—spout propaganda. Propaganda in a movie only bothers me when the movie stinks like stale cheese. Unfortunately, most propaganda movies conform their stories so that the stories serve the propaganda. "Fireproof" qualifies as nothing short of a Sunday morning sermon. Heavy-handed as the Kendricks are with their life affirming message, their latest squeaky clean melodrama doesn't even have the depth of a 1960s soap opera. Nobody but an aggressive, hardcore churchgoer would tolerate this predictable potboiler. Best known for his TV show "Growing Pains," Kirk Cameron hams it up as Caleb along with an amateurish cast in this hopelessly unrealistic drama. Indeed, we feel no sympathy for either of the leads. Caleb is downright obnoxious, while Catherine is ignornant. Erin Bethea has a future in soap commercials. No doubt, the Kendrick congregation and churches that support mindless, antiseptic movies will pack in their flocks for this loquacious fare. Interestingly, blacks and whites intermingle in a denomination free form of Christianity. Further, no churches are shown during the action. Eventually, "Fireproof" will come to a church near you and Christian marriage counselors will no doubt urge congregational showings.

You might perspire for a tense second or two during a car removal scene on a railway track. Otherwise, nobody gets within hailing distance of death in "Fireproof" so the movie lacks any real honest-to-God drama. Naturally, the firefighting sequences are routine compared with those in the Kurt Russell movie "Backdraft" (1991) about Chicago firefighters. Furthermore, no firefighter in his right mind would remove his gear during a blaze like Caleb does in one sequence. Caleb and Catherine are so monumentally moronic that they should have gotten a divorce. Not only are they numb-skulls, they are dull numb-skulls. At one point, the "Love Dare" manual recommends that the owner rid themselves of anything that might be an addiction. Caleb destroys his Internet computer with a baseball bat. Wouldn't it have been easier to install an anti-porn feature? Furthermore, when Caleb takes days off from the fire department, he forgets to do everything but sleep and stare at porn. The Holts are the most irresponsible married couple imaginable.

Georgia-based Tyler Perry makes Christian-themed films about African-Americans that do not insult your intelligence with their complete lack of subtlety. Okay, the best moments in "Fireproof" are the funniest and they involve the next door neighbors, the black hospital nurses aides, and the goofy white fireman who chugs Wrath of God hot sauce. These moments constitute only about a tenth of the film's two hour feature length. The rest of the characters consist of stereotypes in situations that are predictable. Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean that you have to support amateurish Christian movies. "Fireproof" amounts to nothing more than a polished Christian scare film from the 1950s about drug, sex, and sex abuse.

(Editor's Note: This is a movie review about a movie, not an attack on Christianity.)

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.