February 21, 2008

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Vantage Point (PG-13)
A constipated-looking Dennis Quaid has to save dopey president William Hurt from a terrorist attack during a visit to Spain in Vantage Point, an Intense and Suspenseful Thriller, as we know not from any intensity or suspense itself but from the DUN DUN action score and the tight close-ups of an angry Quaid.

Itís the Fox News school of filmmaking.

Our fiber-needing Secret Service agent, Thomas Barnes (Quaid), is just one of many people who witness an attack on U.S. President Ashton (Hurt), who is in Spain for some useless-sounding anti-terrorism summit. In a plaza filled with people, he walks up to a podium and is then shot in the chest. Secret Service agents and others crowd the stage. A man runs up to the stage and is tackled. Another man with a video camera is filming the event and starts to yell loudly in agreement when the tackled man says they all need to get away from the stage. The stage explodes and what had been a scene of chaos turns into one of destruction.

We watch this scene play out several times. Through the eyes of Barnes. Through the eyes of Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), who claims to be a cop working for the mayor. Through the eyes of Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), the dazed American tourist with a video camera who has a chance encounter with a man in the crowd and with a woman and her little girl before all the trouble starts. Through the eyes of Veronica (Ayelet Zurer), a Spanish woman with whom Enrique has some kind of relationship). Through the eyes of a TV producer (Sigourney Weaver) pulling together coverage of the event from a nearby trailer who watches the destruction unfold from some seven different cameras. For each point of view, we rewind to watch the same 20 or so minutes, this time from the presidentís motorcade, that time from inside the news trailer, the next time from the point of view of a terrorist.

Were this a smarter movie, this different-viewpoint gimmick could lead to some nifty plot turns and some genuine suspense. But Vantage Point†isnít terribly smart. It doesnít know how to build real suspense so much as it knows how to approximate the look and feel of an action-packed high-octane political thriller with lots of running and chasing and an explosion you get to show over and over.

Vantage Point is one of those odd movies that kind of takes its time about getting to the big climax but also gives away the farm, secrets-wise, kind of early. You figure out most of the big surprises quickly and then spend your time waiting for the movie to catch up. And I was left with a bit of a sense of disappointment at how the story rather straightforwardly unraveled and at what I think was supposed to be the clever little punchline at the end of the movie, which felt sort of weak in the way that the second half of a season of 24 never quite lives up to the promises made by the first half.

But forget all that. Vantage Point is laugh-out-loud funny due to the way-over-the-top acting by many of the characters but specifically by Quaid and a Secret Service agent played by Lostís Matthew Fox (who gets one particularly brilliantly campy line toward the end of the movie, one that makes you think maybe Lost shouldnít waste all its cheesy vamping on Ben Gale and John Locke). Quaid grimaces through the entire movie, grimacing extra hard when, you know, he really means it. Even during a terrorist attack, I think it would be difficult to scowl that hard for that long. In the chaos and the explosions and the weird double crosses, wouldnít you forget to bunch up your mouth and furrow your brow and go slack occasionally? All that grrrr-ness looks like hard work. C

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language. Directed by Pete Travis and written by Barry Levy, Vantage Point is an hour and a half long and will open in wide release on Friday, Feb. 22. It is distributed by Sony.