October 2, 2008

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Eagle Eye (PG-13)
Shia LaBeouf is forced by a chilly female voice on his cell phone to participate in what might be a terrorist plot against the U.S. in Eagle Eye, a explosion- and chase-filled action movie.

The government now has the ability to listen to everything said in the proximity of our cell phones (or, in the case of my cell phone , which spends most of its time in my purse, to every jingle of my keys). We learn this early in the movie, along with the fact that a super-powered government computer can use a variety of wildly unrealistic technologies to find anyone on Earth and verify that it is in fact them. Or, at least, verify with degrees of certainty. During a strike on some vaguely Middle Eastern terrorist in MadeUpistan, this fancy computer is only 50something percent certain it’s the bad guy and therefore recommends not to blow up the maybe terrorist training camp, maybe funeral where a series of supercool tech toys spots him. The Sec Def (Michael Chikilis; this movie loves official-sounding jargon) agrees with the computer but the president overrides the abort suggestion and tells the military to let fly the missiles. Cut to grim-faced Sec Def.

Meanwhile in a less immediately explodey part of the movie, Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) is beating the pants off his fellow employees at poker in the breakroom of the Copy Cabana. Good thing, too, because Jerry is behind on his rent, as his landlady reminds him. He’s in the middle of explaining how he’ll have it next week, the dog ate his paycheck, whatever, when his mom calls to tell him that his twin brother has been killed in a car accident. The twin was the good brother, as we learn from photos of alternate-universe-Jerry graduating from the Air Force Academy. The next day, Jerry goes to the ATM to deposit the Check of Pity given to him by his parents and he finds that he has more than $700,000 in his account. He takes some of that cash back to his apartment to pay his landlady only to find her coming out of his apartment where she has left some of the many many packages he’s received throughout the day. Packages of what? The whole terrorist supply list — guns, fertilizer, fake passports, various government reports. His cell phone rings and a woman’s voice tells him he’s about to be arrested by the F.B.I. and he needs to escape, which he doesn’t, and so seconds later he is arrested by Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) and company. Naturally, the voice on the phone has other plans for Jerry and soon it is helping him escape F.B.I. custody.

I’ll spare you the machinations that get Jerry a female buddy for this terrorism road trip and simply say ditto single mom Rachel (Michelle Monaghan). Soon they’re both on the run and in the tradition of action movies everywhere, Morgan is the only one who really believes that some greater force, not some copy store slacker and a paralegal, is the mind behind the conspiracy to create some as yet undefined destruction.

And what a conspiracy it is. Eagle Eye is part of the school of unnecessarily complicated plots, and I’m talking terrorist plots, not story plots, here. Storywise, this movie is simplicity itself: bad guy plans to blow stuff up, underdogs on the run are being forced to help bad guy, F.B.I. guy chases them. But the plan that Jerry and Rachel are a part of is like the Russian novel of terrorist plots. Also, the bad guy, as we quickly realize, has almost infinite power to control all networked computers. With power that great, why, exactly, is a big showy piece of destruction even necessary?

There’s a very thin answer the movie gives to that question, one that, like everything else about this film, has been done several times before. All parts of the standard action movie formula appear here: slacker who becomes a hero, kid in peril, potential romance, the one investigator who’s smarter than the rest of the entire government, a big explosion in a highway tunnel, computery things counting down while tension-filled score builds to a fury. These parts aren’t particularly well put together — a big cheeseball like Live Free or Die Hard has more fun and the Bourne Ultimatums of the world take themselves serious enough to produce legitimate suspense. But Eagle Eye isn’t awful either. It’s medium — exactly halfway between Iron Man and unwatchable — with the slightest bump from the likeability of its main characters. C+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence and for language. Directed by D.J. Caruso and written by John Glenn, Travis Wright, Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott, Eagle Eye is an hour and 58 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Pictures.