Eagle Eye (2008) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running time: 118 min.

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie, Ethan Embry, William Sadler, Julianne Moore (voice)
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright. Hillary Seitz, Dan McDermott
Review published February 21, 2009

One of my pet peeves when it comes to discussing films with friends and acquaintances occurs when I get a retort along the lines of, "Lighten up, dude.  It's only a movie."  I've never liked this flip response to a discussion -- I've given my money and two hours of my life to someone else's idea of entertainment, and I feel like I've earned the right to complain about an inferior product if I so choose. The statement also assumes that I don't understand that some movies aren't meant to be scrutinized due to the fact that they are only out to entertain and provide a modicum of escapism from the humdrum pit of daily existence.  It's not as if I'm not entertained by movies that are increasingly preposterous.  I enjoy over-the-top action in such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Total Recall immensely, even if they play more for movie entertainment than for realism. 

What I do object to are films that don't firmly establish that they are not meant to be taken seriously prior to delivering increasingly preposterous events, subjecting us to a cavalcade of "WTF" moments that has me grinding my mental wheels as to how implausible every element is, to the point where I just can't follow its ridiculous storyline for fear my brain will implode.  Eagle Eye is a prime example of this kind of movie experience.  It's a popcorn film that forgets it is a popcorn film, failing on every fundamental level because they want us to take the ludicrous plot as something we should take seriously in between the heavily explosive, stylized action elements.   

A clunky throwback to the days of the paranoia thrillers and doom-and-gloom cautionary sci-fi flicks of the yesteryear, Eagle Eye suffocates in its own ineptitude by taking the worst elements of both subgenres.  Not since Enemy of the State has such a film so completely upped the B.S. factor this high and try to serve it up as if we're supposed to take each laughable element as something that might seriously happen.  Caruso knows only one way to deliver this farfetched material and that's to crank things up full throttle and hope that he can deliver just enough ka-pow from the action sequences to pave over whatever gaping holes might exist in the plot line. 

The film starts with Shia LaBeouf (Indiana Jones 4, Transformers) playing Jerry Shaw, an underachieving young copy clerk who discovers he has heaps of cash sitting in his bank account for reasons that he can't begin to fathom.  He'll take the money though, but when he returns to his apartment, he finds that it is full of strange packages containing all manner of weapons and explosives.  It's not long before the Feds come busting in to nab his for the crimes he might be set up as a terrorist for.  He's in custody and in big trouble, but one seemingly omniscient woman keeps finding ways to contact him and tell him what to do to get away.  She seems to always know what he's doing, see where he's going, and doesn't like it when he doesn't obey.  Same thing happens to another young mother named Rachel (Monaghan, Made of Honor), who finds herself also listening to the same woman who makes her jump through all manner of hoops to make sure her son is safe.  Jerry and Rachel are soon teamed up, begrudgingly following the voice's orders, culminating in a nefarious plot that threatens the security of the nation in the deadliest possible of scenarios.

The entire premise is built upon our own natural fear of technology and our current complete reliance upon it.  We communicate with most people through electronic devices like cell phones, we get our money from ATMs, products are ordered online from anywhere in the world, traffic lights dictate our progress, and even our own identities are tracked and recorded in a plethora of databases.   Someone with access to the massive grid of information and tech devices could virtually destroy our lives, or enrich it.  It's not a bad idea for a film, though The Terminator series did the same but much better using a similar idea of artificial intelligence gone amok.  When power lines can be disassembled in order to precisely fall the exact spot where a man is running away, the credibility of the film is torn to shreds. 

This is the kind of movie where plot points involving identical twins and supremely prescient computer intelligence are dished out with a straight face.  Yes, the kind of movie where the climax of the film hinges on the performance of an all-kid music ensemble performing in front of the U.S. President and the rest of Congress after a State of the Union-caliber address.  It's a scene that evokes Hitchcock, only the Master usually presented it at the end of a good movie, and one in which we had an interest in by the time the climax occurred.  Come to think of it, the entire film is built on a Hitchcockian premise of an innocent man accused and having to exonerate himself before the law put him in lockdown. 

Director D.J. Caruso (Two for the Money, Taking Lives) isn't a stranger to Hitch's works -- his last film was the Rear Window for teens, Disturbia, which also starred LaBeouf.  But to compare this film to any great work by Hitchcock, or even one of his misfires, gives this film the kind of false compliment it doesn't deserve.  Steven Spielberg (Monster House, The Legend of Zorro) gets an executive producer's credit, apparently thinking the works of Jerry Bruckheimer should be the kinds of films Caruso and company ought to emulate.  Sure, the car chases are loud and slickly edited, but where is the excitement outside of the aesthetics?

I could also give credit to the writers for naming the main character in this cat-and-mouse thriller "Tom and Jerry," but really, it only took as much brainstorming to come up with that trivial tidbit than just about anything else in this archaic, brain-dead thriller.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2009 Vince Leo