Directed by D.J. Caruso
Like the mutant offspring of Michaels Bay and Mann, D.J. Caruso fancies himself both a master of pyrotechnics and a crafter of thinking man’s thrillers. Unfortunately, his actual levels of focus and craft are strictly on the level of the former, no matter how much he tries to convince us otherwise. with Eagle Eye, he once again (after the dreadful underworld “drama” The Salton Sea and blockbuster Rear Window update Disturbia) tries to have it both ways, and in this case he falls short in spectacular fashion, flailing and simply failing in equal measure.
A hopped-up hybrid of a dozen movies you’ve seen before, and ending up in a place that can only be described as 2001 meets 24 (2025?), Eagle Eye starts with a surprisingly unnerving, if typically glossed-over, scene in which an American helicopter blows up an entire Iraqi funeral due to the suspected but unconfirmed presence of a sought-out terrorist leader. We then cut to the U.S., where perennial underachiever Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) is mourning the death of his Air Force-trained twin brother in a car accident, and single mother Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) is preparing to send her young son off to Washington to perform at a government recital. They then both receive strict instructional phone calls from a mysterious and unseen presence, coercing them to trek out on a mission of indeterminate aim. Jerry is framed as a terror suspect and Rachel’s son is apparently placed in harm’s way, limiting their options to a laughable, videogame-like degree.
Eagle Eye isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year, but it might be the most insulting – not only to its audience, but to its actors as well. LaBeouf, growing a little more likeable with each passing performance, gets a lot of traction with his honed sad-puppy droop and half-hinged glare. Monaghan, a very talented actress quite used to being shouldered with thankless roles (The Heartbreak Kid, Made of Honor), gets to inhabit a trite role (hard-working, put-upon single mom with a single-minded, selfless devotion towards her child) with a palpable sense of desperation, and together they make for a compelling pair when they share screen time and actually get to interact. That accounts for roughly a tenth of the film. The capable supporting cast (Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis) is made useless through pointless, talking-head roles that serve little to no purpose. Particularly puzzling is the casting of Chiklis as the Secretary of Defense – why bother casting someone with such an imposing physical presence as a suit?
Make no mistake, though, the movie does insult the audience too. We’re asked to swallow one ridiculous premise after another, even as the movie’s tone turns increasingly preachy and self-serious as the “motives” of the “force” at work are made clear and the plot threads – along with any semblance of logic – are not only let go but placed in a box and set on fire. Worse yet, the preachiness (a lot of highfalutin nonsense about the Constitution, technological dependence and individual responsibility) drains the movie of most – though admittedly not all – of its camp value, and the hyperactive editing make the potentially exciting chase sequences (particularly the first vehicle chase) a chore to watch – especially at a hair under two hours. What’s worse than a dumb thriller? A dumb thriller that thinks it’s smart.