Contrived, derivative actioner keeps its eyes on the product placement prize.
One of my favorite movie quotes comes from 1995′s vastly underrated Strange Days: “Paranoia,” one of the characters explains, ”is reality on a finer scale.” Later, another character asks the story’s protagonist, “The question isn’t ‘Are you paranoid?’ It’s ‘Are you paranoid enough?” Misunderstood as a Virtual Reality rock video, that film was really an examination of the way technology was steadily eroding the individual will at the turn of the millennium. In the thirteen years since its release, thanks in no small part to the shabby example set by our government, America has become more paranoid than ever, both as a people and as a nation. And the worst of it is that that condition shows no sign of going away.
Eagle Eye wants to be about paranoia, and about how 21st Century Americans are all ghosts in a giant machine of computer files and encrypted data that define us as individuals and place us within society itself. Subject to some expert hacking and a little determination, we are liable to having our lives turned upside down and twisted inside out, because we are all “on the grid” of the Information Age. Such an idea is a compelling if not wholly unprecedented theme, and that idea sometimes bubbles to the film’s shiny surface. But arrhythmic pacing, far fetched plotting and too many product placements ultimately make it collapse under its own cumbersome weight.
Shia LaBeouf (Transformers: The Movie) plays Jerry Shaw, a minimum wage slave and designated prodigal black sheep of his career military family. When his (contrivances begin here) twin brother is killed, Shaw finds his bank account stuffed with cash and his apartment loaded with enough ordinance to stage a guerrilla war. Then a mysterious female voice begins giving him directions over his cel phone, directing him from Chicago to Washington, D.C. in the company of single mom Rachel Holloman. (Michelle Monaghan, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) The same voice is threatening to kill Rachel’s young son, who’s himself away on a band trip to the nation’s capital. It turns out Shaw’s dead brother was actually an analyst with a top-secret Pentagon intelligence project, one that seeks to assassinate most of the federal government in one fell stroke.
Rather than try to describe any more of the plot, I’m just going to list some of the plot devices: runaway artificial intelligence; explosive crystals detonated with sound frequencies; robot loading cranes; hidden floors at the Pentagon; preemptive military strikes on Arab villages; drone planes; pinwheeling eighteen wheeler trucks; twin sibling biometrics; and finally, the staggering credulity and incompetence shown by law enforcement officials in hundreds of other movies just like this. Perhaps more audacious, and more egregious, are the cribbed plot points and story elements lifted wholesale or in part from other films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Enemy of the State, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Wargames, The Parallax View, and The 39 Steps. Recognizing which parts of this film came from those better ones makes for a good diversion when Eagle Eye’s pacing falls slack, as it does several times.
Director D.J. Caruso (The Shield) takes his directing style from a single page of the Michael Bay/Armageddon playbook, the one that says keep everything slick and glossy while stacking the supporting cast full of respected character actors in order to give the outlandish script some gravitas. Armageddon had Billy Bob Thornton, and he appears here as well. Actually, his flair for snarling lines like “You’ll be demoted to some kind of job that involves touching shit with your hands” brightens the film at several moments. Michael Chiklis, William Sadler, Rosario Dawson, and Anthony Mackie also appear as various military and/or police personnel.
As for the leads, LaBeouf does his best but is neither compelling as a man distanced from his own twin or forceful enough to convey any fugitive intensity while hunted halfway across country. Monaghan’s character is better written, and she does a fine job of making Rachel both strong and terrified without whining or playing to the camera. But there’s only so much any woman can do in a film about computers, guns, robots and soldiers. Monaghan is a beautiful and promising actress who, after this and Made of Honor, needs to pick better scripts immediately and from now on.
The true stars of the film, however, are in many ways the products and corporations shamelessly and relentlessly marketed throughout. Executive producer Steven Spielberg has never been shy about putting products into his films, and here that commercial instinct overheats and very nearly explodes. The use of the Sprint phones alone, the company logo always prominently displayed, defies any claim to artistic integrity.
A couple of times lately I’ve written about movies that had something on their mind besides action and suspense. It seems an exaggeration to say the same about Eagle Eye, which feels in every way like screenwriters John Glenn and Travis Wright tried to write a blockbuster based on what they perceived as zeitgeist in the age of identity theft and government wiretapping. In other words, the film’s topical resonance is only a launching platform for semi-mindless boom boom boom action sprinkled with what the producers, studio, and director think people care about. But such second-guessing and condescension happen everyday in the movie business, regardless of whether the public realizes it or not. It’s enough to make any filmgoer feel manipulated, maybe even paranoid.