Bruce Sterling's 1998 novel Distraction opens with a group of strangers converging on a bank, each with one specific task. By the time they are done, the entire bank has been disassembled. While this idea of a smart mob's destructive power isn't exactly new, Eagle Eye's variations on the concept make for compelling, if sometimes contrived, cinema.
Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf
) is an underachiever mourning the recent death of his overachieving twin brother Ethan. Across town, Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan
) is sending her little boy Sam (Cameron Boyce) on a school band trip. While Jerry arrives home to find his apartment filled with every piece of terrorist contraband known to man and a voice on his cell phone telling him to run, Rachel receives a call telling her to follow instructions or her son's train will be derailed. Article continues below
Jerry, at least, disobeys and is captured by the FBI for his trouble. The mystery caller then enables Jerry's escape by manipulating anything even remotely computer-controlled in the vicinity and forcing him into a car with Rachel. With the U.S. government in the form of FBI agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton
) and Air Force intelligence agent Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson
) hot on their trail, they are sent on a series of seemingly unrelated missions each contributing to some mysterious master plan.
Having tackled Rear Window in Disturbia
, director D.J. Caruso
(again with LaBeouf) seems poised to undertake North by Northwest this time, but the film owes as much to Enemy of the State (the phrase is actually used) as any Hitchcock fare, with a dash of Live Free or Die Hard
thrown in for good measure. But the derivative nature of the plot takes little away from the enjoyment of the ride. Caruso sets a good pace and never lets up.
As far as action sequences go, Caruso doesn't handle them as ably as he did the suspense elements in Disturbia. His too-close camerawork often obscures the geography of the action, muddling, for example, an otherwise clever car chase where traffic lights become a lethal weapon.
The screenplay, by John Glenn, Travis Wright, Hillary Seitz, and Dan McDermott (whew!), holds together overall, but it occasionally lapses into sloppy exposition, lifeless dialogue, and telegraphed plot points. For the most part, however, the writers keep the audience guessing as to the true nature of the game that is afoot, finding clever outlets for the cyberterrorism that alternately aids and coerces our heroes on their journey. Not helping matters any is the distracting, and in some cases baffling, product placement. Does Circuit City really want to be identified with a movie where technology poses so many threats?
The spoiler at the heart of the plot is a bit of a stretch, but the nature of the film is such that if you're already having fun, you're unlikely to give up on it by then. But even the greatest suspension of disbelief can't help a tacked-on cop-out coda. The film would have benefited greatly from ending four minutes earlier than it does.
With a few more drafts and a dialogue touch-up, Eagle Eye might have been a great film about the dangers of surveillance and socio-technological networks. As it is, it's a likable paranoid fantasy that will handily kill a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon... before disappearing into the endless data stream it depicts with such apprehension.