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Eagle Eye Print E-mail
Friday, 26 September 2008
ImageIn the press notes for “Eagle Eye,” executive producer Steven Spielberg says he hopes no one regards this movie as science fiction.

Tough luck, Steven. It’s unquestionably science fiction, and not very good science fiction at that. In fact, the movie is something of a disaster. A well-cast, well-produced disaster with a few fleeting good moments, but it’s based on a premise that’s nothing less than ludicrous, at least given the time period (right now).

It wants, almost desperately, to be a smashing action picture; there’s a car chase in the streets of Chicago that’s clearly intended to rank among the great chase scenes of all time. Instead, it’s so wildly over-produced and over-directed that it’s one of the WORST car chases ever filmed.

The credits indicate they used “pre-viz” for this—working from a kind of animated storyboard of every shot in the film, including the flurry of short takes in the car chase. This means that dozens, maybe hundreds, of eyes looked at this chase both before and after it was shot—and they somehow failed to recognize that the chase is a misbegotten, incoherent mess. It’s an ear-shattering stew of very brief images, many so jittery as to seem FOOT-held rather than hand-held. You can’t tell which car is which (except for the occasional exploding police car), you can’t tell their spatial relationships, you can’t tell what direction they’re going or what the issues are at any moment. The great car chases rarely used camera movement, except for looking from a truck straight back at an oncoming car, or a quick pan across a car flashing by. The chase here is so dizzying you cannot connect with the characters; you can’t even tell what car they’re in. It’s a black Porsche SUV (yes, even Porsche makes an SUV), but half the cars in this scene, shot at night, seem to be black SUVs. The worst part about this ill-conceived, impossible-to-follow mess is that it’s characteristic of the film around it.
It’s difficult to talk about the basic idea behind what’s going on without engaging in spoilers. It involves a computer gone wrong. The movie tips its hat a little to Kubrick’s “2001”—one of those trying to deal with the computer is named Bowman, which was Keir Dullea’s character name in that space epic. That may reveal too much. On the other hand, I am trying to suggest that this movie really isn’t worth seeing.

It opens with a brief sequence set somewhere in the Middle East; U.S. ground troops and eyes-in-the-sky (a small aircraft with a TV camera) are following an Osama Bin Laden-type of Arabic bad guy. Secretary of Defense Callister (Michael Chiklis) thinks the odds of this being their target, estimated at 51% likelihood, aren’t good enough to launch an attack—but the President, contacted by phone, does. Kaboom.

In the United States, Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), who works at a copy shop, where he makes little money (he’s behind on his rent), Is established as something of a loser—he goes through girlfriends like Kleenex. A phone call brings him home—to the funeral of his twin brother Ethan. We see that there’s estrangement between Jerry and his father (William Sadler), we learn that of the two boys, it was Ethan who was the winner—a family wall is lined with trophies he won in school. He was an officer in the Air Force when he was killed in a traffic accident.

Jerry grieves, partly because he was also estranged from Ethan, and he returns to his apartment—which is unexpectedly stuffed to the gills with everything a terrorist needs: surveillance equipment, weaponry, explosives, etc. He’s stunned, and even more surprised to get a phone call from an unidentified woman who tells him the FBI will be there to arrest him in a matter of minutes. And this does happen.

Elsewhere we meet Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), single mother seeing her young trumpet-playing son Sam (Cameron Boyce, clearly the cutest kid in North America) off on the train to Washington where his school orchestra is to play as part of State-of-the-Union activities. We also see a swarthy guy swipe Sam’s trumpet case from the baggage cart.

At FBI headquarters, Sam is questioned by good-natured but determined agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who knows about Ethan, in fact all about Jerry—but doesn’t believe his claims of innocence. When Jerry is left alone, he gets a call from that same mysterious voice, which tells him to duck. Then the illuminated news sign across the street tells him, by name, to jump. He barely has time to evade a construction crane boom that smashes through the wall, allowing him to jump what looks like twenty feet to an El track below. He discards his cell phone—but the same caller reaches him anyway through a stranger’s cell.

Meanwhile, that same voice contacts Rachel, showing her Sam on the TV screens at a McDonalds across the street, warning her that unless she does exactly as told, Sam will die.

Eventually, by use of more signs, phones and the like, the mysterious voice gets Rachel and Jerry, now pursued by the FBI and the police, into a car (here’s the chase scene), onto a garbage barge and out of the city.
By this time, we occasionally see vast maps of the Illinois area with hundreds of video screens hovering above; the camera zooms in on one, and there are Jerry and/or Rachel and/or their pursuers. It’s soon obvious that whoever or whatever is wielding this power and directing our fugitives’ actions could control the entire world.

But right now, they’re controlling Jerry and Rachel, still pursued by the dogged Morgan. Eventually the path leads them to Washington D.C. and that State of the Union event. By this time, Air Force special agent Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson) and ultimately Major William Bowman (Anthony Mackie) are drawn into events, some of which take place in a basement area way, way beneath the Pentagon. There’s a chase on the baggage-moving racks and belts at an airport; a highly explosive crystal, and the audio “valve” that can set it off, are introduced.

Initially, the setup seems sort of Hitchcockian, a “North by Northwest” for the 21st century—but whatever his charms, LaBoeuf isn’t Cary Grant, and director D.J. Caruso most assuredly is not Hitchcock (even though his last movie, “Disturbia,” also with LaBoeuf, was a knockoff of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”) When Jerry leaps from the building, tumbles onto the tracks, then leaps out of a train onto a concrete platform and doesn’t even limp we realize he’s absolutely (if impossibly) indestructible; we needn’t fear for the safety of THIS guy.

Also, the sheer omniscience of that all-powerful voice on the phone diminishes, essentially eliminates, suspense. You feel your energy draining with each new turn of events, each increasingly unlikely plot development. Ultimately, this wild-eyed wonder passes even “far-fetched” and heads off into the cloudy, brightly-lit terrain of super-spy science fiction, much stranger and more preposterous than any Bond movie.

This supposedly came from an idea by Spielberg himself; for a while, he planned to direct it—but he certainly would have made a better movie than this one. This is probably the worst movie made so far to feature Spielberg’s name in the credits. It was produced by (among others) the very busy Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, which gives a dismaying idea of what might be in store from the “Star Trek” revival they recently produced. This movie looks expensive, effects are plentiful and largely flawless; every dollar is on the screen. But it’s a depressingly silly movie, unbelievable, occasionally wretchedly edited (though that baggage-moving scene is okay). It’s especially unfortunate that the car chase is so badly done—after all, Spielberg made his name with “Duel,” that TV movie that was entirely a car chase. Even his first theatrical feature, “Sugarland Express,” was a car chase. Didn’t he offer any input on the chase here?

The screenplay is credited to Dan McDermott and Hillary Seitz and the writing team of John Glenn (not the senator/astronaut) and Travis Adam Wright. There are a few good lines early on—when Morgan says he’s a “copy boy,” Jerry hastily corrects him: “copy associate”—and the occasional quiet scenes between LaBeouf and Monaghan have some value. But the increasing improbability of the entire enterprise—at the end a drone plane flies through a highway tunnel chasing a car, which somehow outruns it—drains interest from the movie. We eventually just don’t give a damn about Jerry, though Rachel does retain our sympathy, partly because of Monaghan’s acting skills, partly because she’s a desperate mother, and deserving of sympathy.

But overall, the movie is a major misfire. The trailer makes it look great, and you wonder how our hero can be contacted by phone, by message sign, by any electronic means. But the explanation is unbelievable and therefore disappointing. The car chase is godawful, the other action scenes so-so. The ending is something of a copout. “Eagle Eye” doesn’t resemble an eagle as much as it does a turkey.

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