If one were to take the typewriters away from Borel’s million monkeys and instead equip them with a film editing machine and copies of Enemy of the State, The Game, Live Free or Die Hard, WarGames, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, and Wall-E how long would it take them to produce Eagle Eye? A week? A day?
Director D.J. Caruso’s new action thriller (executive produced by one Steven A. Spielberg) borrows so profligately that it may want to consider lining up for a share of the Wall Street bailout. Everyman protagonist who unwittingly finds himself at the center of a massive government conspiracy? Check. Cool-in-concept, ridiculous-in-execution technological conceit? Check: They can see you anywhere; they can control anything: traffic lights, cell phones, Predator drones, your car ... An assassination scheme so comically convoluted it makes Rube Goldberg look utilitarian? Check.
Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) is a twentysomething Stanford dropout who has bummed around the globe taking jobs in copy shops and the like, his failures in part a response to the successes of his superstar Air Force patriot twin brother. But after said brother is killed in (what appears to be) an everyday car crash, Jerry returns to his own apartment to find he’s received a large delivery of high-tech rifles, sniper scopes, ammonium nitrate, and various other products you can’t order from Best Buy. As he’s conducting a somewhat terrified inventory, his cell phone rings and a woman’s voice informs him that the FBI is on its way: His only hope is to flee now. He doesn’t, and thus soon finds himself in an interrogation room with a Fed (played by Billy Bob Thornton), who cheerfully informs him, “No matter what you tell me, you’re in a shitload of trouble, son.” Jerry shortly gets another phone call, though, telling him to duck, mere seconds before a massive crane knocks in the side of the building inches above his head. This time, he does what he’s told and gets the hell out.
Jerry isn’t the only one receiving unwanted calls. There’s also Rachel (Michelle Monaghan), a pretty single mom who’s just bundled her young son onto a train bound for Washington, D.C., where he’s to play trumpet with his school band at the Kennedy Center. “Rachel Holloman,” the mysterious caller tells her, “you’ve been activated”--her own cell phone treating her like a cell phone. It’s a message she takes rather more seriously when a nearby video billboard suddenly shows her security footage of her son, alone and vulnerable on that train.
So Jerry and Rachel hit the road in a Porsche Cayenne helpfully provided by the Voice, which also takes care of any pesky red lights they might encounter along the way. (Remember: This is all a bad thing.) Followed by Thornton and a likable Air Force intelligence officer (Rosario Dawson) they dodge falling power lines, giant mechanical salvage claws, and a variety of other unlikely obstacles on their way to Washington where--well, you know: They finally meet the chief baddie, uncover the nefarious plot, and (spoiler?) foil it.
Though Eagle Eye is loud and dumb and edited to an amphetamine tempo, it is not--unlike, say, its close cousin, Live Free or Die Hard--gratuitously unpleasant. The leads are amiable and the tone, though hectic, is never too grim. It might merit a B-minus in the silly popcorn movie category if it didn’t unwisely decide, toward the end, that it wasn’t willing to be just a silly popcorn movie. Instead it aims for contemporary political parable and misses rather wildly. The whole plot to destroy the government, it turns out, was in response to a mistaken U.S. aerial attack on what was believed to be a terrorist camp but was in fact a mere funeral party. (It’s an oddly naïve cynicism that would choose such light grounds for revolt, when reality has offered ones so much heavier.) “To prevent more bloodshed,” the villain explains, “the executive branch must be removed.” Well, sure. But, unlike Eagle Eye, I’m willing to wait until November 4.
Christopher Orr is a senior editor of The New Republic.