Sunday, October 05, 2008

Film Review - EAGLE EYE: Blindingly Stupid.

His name is LaBeouf. Learn it well. For his is the glorious face of the future of the cinematic art form!

...Or at least that’s what those thunderous voices emanating from the Titans of Tinseltown have been bellowing for the last few years, as the ever-encroaching spectre of Shia LaBeouf slowly began infiltrating the tranquility of our daily lives. From the moment he was cast in Walt Disney’s Holes (Has there ever been a dirtier sounding family film?), the buzz has been deafening, and the back-to-back-to-back hits Disturbia, Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were likened to triumphant blasts, heralding the arrival of an unstoppable box-office juggernaut. So how does one follow up two bazillion-grossing extra-terrestrial themed blockbusters? You make a paranoid suspense flick dealing with governmental surveillance, of course! (Hey, it worked for Big Willie, right?)

Which brings us to Eagle Eye, a head-slappingly absurd cyber-thriller, which pairs LaBeouf’s Jerry, a Copy Cabana-employed ne’er-do-well, with pretty single mother Rachel (Michelle Monaghan), and sets them on the run from their own government (handily personified by terse FBI man Billy Bob Thornton and gutsy Air Force investigator Rosario Dawson). The duo must obey an ominous female voice on a telephone (Julianne Moore in a wisely uncredited vocal cameo), who can see them anywhere, anytime, and who threatens their personal safety if they do not comply with her often bizarre demands. Should I also mention that amidst these energetic events a controversy swirls around a presidential decision to attack an Afghani desert funeral that may have been attended by a bin Laden-like terrorist? Could the two events possibly be related?

Now fine, the set-up for Eagle Eye is actually promising, and LaBeouf has a nicely shifty personality (though bad teenage facial hair was a questionable choice), all off-beat gesticulating and rapid-fire speech patterns, that’s fun to see plugged in to something this generic. He’s a bit like ‘Ratso’ Rizzo’s suburban nephew. But he’s badly sidelined at the beginning of the second act when the script takes a laughable turn. Before proceeding, I’d recommend anyone who yearns to experience Eagle Eye unsullied skip the next paragraph. Hark, light spoilers be on the horizon!

It turns out that the mysterious “voice” is Project Eagle Eye: a rogue governmental computer dubbed ARIA, which is modelled so closely to 2001’s HAL 9000 that I hope Stanley Kubrick’s estate is getting royalties. It has decided that the United States government is in a critical state of disarray and in need of intervention (Oh, how I wish they’d cast Michael Moore as the ARIA’s voice...). So, its plan is to stage the most overly-complex, silly scheme against the powers that be as inhumanly possible. It goes without saying that ARIA can control every single mechanical thing in the free-world: cranes, electrical conductors, iPhones and even, in a shameless plug, the Circuit City home-entertainment department. The sheer stupidity of ARIA's decisions had me pondering whether it had a virus protection program installed. Those trojan-droppers can be a bitch!

Director D.J. Caruso, who helmed Disturbia, tries to ground all this nonsense by attempting to shoot the picture like a half-witted homage to seventies’ cinema. He has the gritty filters down, but his action beats are flat out embarrassing. The film’s first intended show-stopper, a rapid-fire chase through downtown D.C., has apparently been shot and edited by a blind epileptic, while the second, featuring a self-flying attack plane, is a second-rate rip-off of Stealth and Live Free or Die Hard. I don’t even want to describe Caruso’s The Man Who Knew Too Much-lifted climax for fear of being haunted by Hitchcock’s ornery ghost.

Perhaps Eagle Eye’s most egregious crime, however, is wasting such an impeccable supporting cast. Rosario Dawson and Michelle Monaghan (who earned serious geek-cred with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) are as devoid of personality as their super-powered puppet master. At least Billy Bob Thornton, who bears a mad glint of secret self-amusement, almost manages to rouse the audience awake with his oddball behaviour and (likely improv-ed) dialogue.

This brings us back to LaBeouf: the Man, the Myth and the Legend. He’s engaging and idiosyncratic, and able to make badly-written sarcastic dialogue about trains turning into talking ducks strangely crowd-pleasing. While many would like to deny it, he’s an outstanding lead because he understands the importance of a charismatic, grounded central figure, and yet brings numerous attractive acting choices to the table. Unfortunately despite his talents, he’s incapable of redeeming this sorry project, which boasts an Eagle Eye... and a bird-brain.

1.5 out of 5

P.S.: The final scene, an obvious studio intervention, is a howlingly miscalculated attempt at a sunny ending. My fellow movie-goers tittered their way through the whole thing.

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Oct. 6th, 2008.

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