by HELEN GEIB
Eagle Eye is a paranoia thriller that cobbles together plotlines, situations, and characters from a number of other, better movies. It owes its greatest debt to WarGames (1983), a Cold War-era story of two teenagers who discover a national defense supercomputer has developed a mind of its own. The pertinent differences: Eagle Eye is frenetic and nasty; the male protagonist is an idiot; the female protagonist is a spineless idiot; the film is sprinkled with facile political speechifying recycled from left-leaning letters to the editor.
[Spoiler warning: This review reveals plot twists. If you plan to ignore my advice and see this movie, finish the review after you get home.]
The plot of Eagle Eye, in the dual sense of what happens in the film and the supercomputer antagonist’s plan to accomplish an American “regime change,” is insanely complicated. It also has plot holes you could drive a truck through, and is really not worth getting into in any detail. Suffice it to say the fate of the nation is at stake and rests in the hands of two people who are not remotely equipped by experience, training, intellect, or inner character to meet the challenge.
They are played by good-looking twentysomethings Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan. Jerry is an aimless college dropout with daddy and high-achieving twin brother issues. Rachel is a single mom. That’s about it in the way of characterization.
The hardboiled senior federal investigator (Billy Bob Thornton) tracking them is a familiar type from many movies; he most closely resembles Tommy Lee Jones’s marshal in The Fugitive, a film that also contributes to the plot. The haywire computer is modeled on Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey; the filmmakers knowingly emphasize the derivation through the character’s visual design, dialogue, and surveillance methods. Modern America’s susceptibility to cyber terrorism is straight out of the playbook of last year’s Live Free or Die Hard, as are a couple of the big action sequences. The specter of the television series 24 hangs over the film’s beat-the-clock pacing, high incidental body count, and threat of presidential assassination.
It would not be an overstatement to say I despised the characterization of Rachel. She is defined entirely by her love for her young son; the character is a conscience-less shell labeled “mother love.” It means absolutely nothing to her that she is actively abetting a plot to kill the president, the next 13 people in the line of presidential succession, and an unknown number of innocent bystanders, so long as compliance will stave off an undefined threat to her son’s life.
There is another woman in the main cast, a military investigator played by Rosario Dawson. Zoe is the heroine that Rachel is not: intelligent, resourceful, competent, strong willed. I would have preferred Zoe be the main character, but then the movie would have been over too quickly. The plot only works if the female lead is a helpless, damsel-in-distress type incapable of either independent thought or seizing the initiative.
The film has one good sequence, a foot chase on and around the belts of an airport’s labyrinthine, fully automated baggage conveyor system. It’s a great set and the action is well-choreographed and filmed. In notable contrast to the rest of the action sequences, there are no explosions, nobody is killed, and it isn’t totally ludicrous. Instead it’s low-key and imaginative, and it works.