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Eagle Eye   D+

DreamWorks Pictures

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz, Dan McDermott
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Mackie, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Chiklis.

Review by Rob Vaux

So yeah, there's plausibility issues. Giant, rampaging plausibility issues. That's par for the course with movies like Eagle Eye and its profound failure of the reality test theoretically shouldn't interfere with its ability to deliver a good time. And for the first half, it doesn't. Conceived as a riff on the "wrongful man accused" motif -- with wide-eyed copy boy Jerry Shaw (Shia LeBeouf) plunged into a vast conspiracy spanning the globe -- it moves easily through its early paces with a good sense of brainless entertainment. Hitchcock rattled off similar potboilers every couple of years, and he always made it look so easy. But that causes problems for directors who lack his gift.

The methods of the conspiracy form the bulk of the first act, leaving the question of its goals for later. Whoever they are, they have complete control over every electronic device in the country and can use that power to manipulate their chosen pawns at will. They flash instant messages on public TV screens, halt or divert subway cars, control military drones to fire missiles at chosen targets, and instantly call any cell phone in the vicinity to issue their orders. Their purpose is nebulous, yet sinister, and their membership remains tantalizingly unclear. All we hear is a woman's voice on the phone, calmly telling Shaw to do exactly as she says if he wants to live. He's soon joined by fellow victim/plucky single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), whose field-tripping son is threatened with a messy demise if she doesn't cooperate. As they jump through various far-fetched hoops, government agents Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) and Perez (Rosario Dawson) marshal various branches of hapless cops in vain pursuit, hoping to figure out what they're up to before it's too late.

Checking one's brain at the door becomes mandatory with this kind of material, and a great deal of Eagle Eye adheres fanatically to the standard Hollywood playbook. (We need to find some new places to stage foot chases, because the airport? It's been done.) Director D.J. Caruso adds little new to the mix, and the chunky editing style renders most of the action scenes a hash of confusing noise. And yet moments of dumb popcorn fun arise every now and again. The question of who's behind that voice on the phone and what she wants with these two Just Plain Folks remains reasonably intriguing, aided by LeBeouf's modest onscreen charisma and a few developments of the guilty pleasure variety. Shaw, a fervent antiauthoritarian, doesn't like being ordered around, and Eagle Eye scores its share of low-grade points with his periodic, futile acts of attempted rebellion.

The problem is that when you present a mystery -- even a fluffy shits-and-giggles mystery like this one -- you eventually have to answer it. Eagle Eye teases things out until just after the first hour, but when the revelation lands, it buries everything beneath sheer derivative goofiness. The remainder of the film then goes haywire as earlier throwaway details become part of the Evil Plan and Shaw's increasingly desperate efforts to derail it all start covering up for some very embarrassing holes. Each new twist produces the kind of incredulous guffaws normally reserved for Uwe Boll pictures, combed with the pedestrian technical details to doom the entire affair. The big punchline arrives in the form of a half-assed political message tacked on the finale, and the realization that the poor darlings really seem to mean it.

The cast mostly just pays the rent, save LeBeouf who's trying to carry a big-time movie without the help of giant robots or whip-cracking archaeologists. That he more or less succeeds here speaks well for his prospects with better material. For now, he merely underscores the disposable nature of this one. Its simplistic attractions dissipate beneath the slightest puff of logic, and even as idiot stimulus-response goes, it tests one's patience past the breaking point. Addled little techno-thrillers still need something beyond a central hook to keep us watching. Eagle Eye doesn't, and its efforts to distract us from that fact only heighten the embarrassment.

Review published 09.27.2008.

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