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Cyber-surveillance has a long reach in the hyperactive 'Eagle Eye,' which features an assassination plot.

September 26, 2008|Michael Phillips | Chicago Tribune

"Eagle Eye" is a thriller only a Global Positioning System could love. I suppose if I weren't still using regional positioning systems (they're called "maps"), I might be more interested in all the cyber-techno-harum-scarum and the showy transitional sequences depicting a vast surveillance network as seen from space, or the outermost Google map perspective.

The film's central idea is that our government's mania for Homeland Security-era privacy infringement has gotten so out of hand that everything in an ordinary citizen's life can be digitally surveyed, or overheard, and manipulated, via cellphone, security camera, GPS, ATM, everything.

So: When the ice-cold female voice of the Pentagon's super-secret surveillance weapon ARIA (think humorless older sister of "2001: A Space Odyssey's" HAL 9000) wants to get ahold of Shia LaBeouf on board a Chicago elevated train, ARIA simply calls the cellphone of the sleeping stranger sitting next to him. Or she flashes messages on a passing LED screen. Or, if an Arab American supporting player needs eliminating, and he happens to be running near power lines, she knocks the hot wires loose like an invisible Transformer, and zap: He's dead. Anything's possible. And when anything's possible, a story's suspense tends to be lessened rather than heightened.

LaBeouf plays Jerry, a clerk at a Kinko's-type copy shop. Early in a perplexingly laid-out narrative his identical twin brother, an Air Force functionary, dies in a mysterious accident. Soon enough Jerry's life goes flooey: Someone delivers a bunch of a terrorist-brand chemicals and weaponry to his little apartment and packs his bank account with $750,000. The FBI, represented by Billy Bob Thornton (well, it's possible), believes Jerry to be an enemy of the state. He's not, though. Nor is another innocent bystander, played by Michelle Monaghan, whose son is visiting Washington, D.C., to take part in a concert for the president. The little boy becomes an inadvertent pawn in a sinister assassination plot. "You've been activated" is ARIA's come-on line.

The movie itself is hyperactive and a jumble. "Eagle Eye" was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg but not so you'd notice. Several of the visual conceits used so beautifully in Spielberg's own "Minority Report," the trappings of a wondrously chilly near-future, recur here but clumsily and without wit. Concocted by four credited writers, the screenplay tries like the devil to get you all fussed up about omnivorous cyber-surveillance on a scale George Orwell never imagined. The results are intensely silly and visually hysterical -- not in the funny way but in the "fit of hysteria" way, with molto destructo car chases cut to an editing rhythm that might make even Michael "Transformers" Bay scream, "Will you slow down a little?"

The director, D.J. Caruso, teamed with LaBeouf on "Disturbia," which certainly was derivative (borrowing from not just "Rear Window" but a bit of "Psycho" and a dash of "Poltergeist") but told its story efficiently and well. "Eagle Eye" works only in flashes -- there's a pretty good chase sequence in the bowels of an airport luggage-conveyor system -- and only in fragments do you feel the simultaneous buzz and cold chill the filmmakers are after. Politically, the film plays it straight down the middle, straining not to offend even though the U.S. secretary of State, played by a stone-faced Michael Chiklis, intones dire warnings about what happens to a nation when security measures become "threats to liberty itself." For all its digitally effected chaos, the cinematic threat level in "Eagle Eye" never comes close to orange, even.


"Eagle Eye." MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence and for language. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. In general release.

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