Friday, October 24, 2008

Eagle Eye (2008)

D.J. Caruso's last picture Disturbia looked so much like Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window it prompted a lawsuit from one of the latter's copyright holders, the Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust. After watching Caruso's new Eagle Eye, I would advise Ernest Lehman's estate to consult with their attorneys because this time he's riffing, rather blatantly, on North by Northwest. Finally, we have a Brian De Palma for the Even Stevens crowd.

The movie is about an average guy with a below average beard named Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), who returns to his tiny Chicago apartment one day to discover it is full of explosives and weapons. An anonymous woman calls his cell phone and tells him the FBI is about to break into his house and arrest him on charges of terrorism. She is correct and soon Jerry's being interrogated by Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thorton) who refuses to believe the young man's story. As far as Agent Morgan's concerned, they've caught Jerry red-handed. Jerry protests: if he was a terrorist, how stupid would he have to be to keep a cache of bombs where everyone knows he lives? It's an excellent point but Morgan dismisses it. Either this is a commentary on the U.S. government's willingness to to believe any evidence, no matter how dubious (not impossible, given the movie's themes) or very lazy screenwriting (also not impossible, given the number of other coincidences in this film, including the fact that the entire narrative rests on -- get ready -- identitcal twins).

Eventually, the same mystery woman facilitates Jerry's escape from custody and sends him on a wild goose chase south by southeast towards Washington D.C., where the climax is lifted right out of another Hitchcock movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much. Along the way he picks up a cute sidekick (Michelle Monaghan) who, conveniently, has a child in danger (to enhance the suspense) but not a husband (to diminsh the sexual tension with LaBeouf). The woman on Jerry's phone is impossibly powerful: she can change traffic lights, or stop subways, or topple enormous electrical towers instantly at will. She can even listen to people on their cell phones when they're turned off, as foreshadowed in a none-too-subtle news report overheard by Jerry just before his life unravels.

Apparently, this technology does exist. Eagle Eye's creators would probably argue that the movie is extremely timely because it addresses threats to our privacy, and presents things like these "roving bugs" to a mainstream audience. But it's almost the opposite; by placing these plausible notions into an entirely implausible thriller, Caruso almost encourages audiences not to worry about them. No one will ever walk out of Eagle Eye concerned for their privacy because the movie takes genuinely disturbing concepts and plays them as dumb science-fiction. Anytime an opportunity to engage with some of these issues presents itself, it beats them back with another uninspired, excessively edited action sequence. It's one thing to make an escapist action picture that exists in its own universe; it's another to address our world and its problems and then trivialize it with cliche and formula.

That aside, I will say there is a quality to LaBeouf that I like in action pictures, and it's something he brought to Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull even with all those films' flaws. Even in the dreckiest dreck he's engaged. When he runs onscreen, it's him and not a stunt double, and he's running top speed with a sense of urgency that is missing from a lot of older actors. That might change with age -- LaBeouf is only 23 -- but for now he does have an appeallingly energetic presence.

Ultimately Eagle Eye is different enough from North by Northwest (and Disturbia from Rear Window) to render lawsuits moot, but you'd be a fool not to recognize the earlier films' influence on Caruso's. Maybe that's what he had in mind in selecting Jerry Shaw's employer: Copy Cabana, a movie version of Kinko's.

"Welcome to Copy Cabana. What would you like me to copy next?"

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