Did you like Enemy of the State but found it to be just too headache-inducingly smart? Have you been interested in the paranoid thrillers of the 70s but are afraid they’re too bleak and sad and that the political messages aren’t spelled out explicitly enough? Do you like explosions and despise logic? Then Eagle Eye is the movie you must see.
Director DJ Caruso has reteamed with Shia LaBeouf and producer Steven Spielberg after their enjoyable Hitchcock riff, Disturbia, to give the text message generation their own North by Northwest meets The Man Who Knew Too Much. But where Disturbia was fun and only got better as it went along, Eagle Eye is an egregiously stupid movie that relies on boring action movie cliches and sheer implausibility to drag its moronic carcass from one scene to the next.
The movie starts out strong, which makes its eventual failure all the more painful. A military group has a suspected terrorist leader in their sites, a guy who never comes out of hiding. At least they think it’s him – their big strategy computer can’t make a solid facial recognition confirmation – and it looks like he’s going to a funeral. The military decides to ignore the computer and blow the guy – and the funeral party – to hell. It’s an intriguing start, one filled with moral complexity that is far too unwieldy for this dumb picture to maintain.
In the US Shia LaBeouf is an everyman who is living on the margins of society. But we soon learn that he like, chose that option for himself, man. Sure he’s a slacker, but the movie can’t allow him to have truly bad qualities, so there are reasons presented for that. Meanwhile Michelle Monaghan is a single mom whose son is off to Washington DC to play in his school band at the Kennedy Center. When LaBeouf is framed as a terrorist and Monaghan is convinced that her son is in mortal danger they’re thrown together by a mysterious female voice on the phone that tells them what to do and where to go and that hacks into every computer system to make way for them. If you haven’t already guessed who the villain of this piece is, mild spoilers follow…
Yes, it’s the fucking computer. Total Hal 9000 bullshit – the computer’s central brain area even has a bright red light. I won’t spoil why the computer is doing what it’s doing except to say that it appears to have had a complete meltdown… on ideological grounds. At one point the computer makes its case by quoting the Declaration of Independence. Once the computer is revealed as the villain, the whole movie simply comes crashing down. The conceit is just silly, and it’s not well-executed. This is a computer that is shown to be able to do anything – in a Final Destination-esque scene it makes an overhead power line overload and sends the sparking line directly onto a guy who is trying to escape. That makes no sense but is part of what establishes the computer as omniscient and omnipotent… and yet it has to go through all of these insane hoops to get its mission accomplished. Once the powers of the computer are established you realize most of the movie’s events serve only as padding, since the damn machine could have done what it wanted without action scenes or bloodshed.
And I wish it had. The action scenes in Eagle Eye are uniformly terrible. I liked what Caruso did in Disturbia, but here the action doesn’t border on incoherent, it marches its armies in and takes it over. There is a car chase scene that has to date baffled everyone I have spoken to who saw the film, even those who liked it. Half of the scene seems to be just shaky close-ups and you never understand where any vehicle is in relation to any other vehicle. It’s possibly the single worst car chase I have ever seen on film.
That sour taste that I got from that chase scene never quite left my mouth the entire running time. It was big and dumb, with a truly idiotic – but ‘spectacular’ – conclusion, and it showed how far we’ve come from the heyday of the paranoid thriller. You feel like Caruso and his writers worried that there was too much thinking and thrillering going on, so they just started throwing sub-Transformers car wrecks in our faces. Once the chase happens the movie abandons all concepts of being a paranoid thriller and simply turns into War Games after a savage nitrous binge.
Perhaps the biggest sin of Eagle Eye is the way it wastes Shia LaBeouf. I understand that the actor wants to ‘grow up,’ but this movie does it wrong by a) having him wear scrubby hairs on his face and b) not be as funny as he could be. The beauty of LaBeouf is his sense of humor and comic timing, but the film’s attempts to ‘darken’ him up leave him spouting only a few jokes. When he does say or do something funny the whole film lights up. Frankly I’d rather see another intense young actor playing a generic role like this. If you’re going to have Shia in your film, let him be Shia. Even if his agent wants to redefine who Shia is. And if you’re not going to let him be Shia, let him play a character with some edges, instead of a squeaky clean guy dressed in rebel clothes. I’d say that his character in Disturbia had more edge to him than this ostensibly more adult character.
Michelle Monaghan is mostly wasted as well, as she doesn’t have much to do, but Billy Bob Thornton comes out as the overall winner of the movie. He’s funny, he’s wry, he’s almost taking it all seriously but not quite enough to get caught in the blue filtered quagmire. In fact, Thornton’s lines are often so funny and so good that I assume he ad libbed them, as the team of writers on this hunk of shit never otherwise give the actors clever or witty lines to say.
As the movie careens to its dumb ass climax, Caruso and his writers just keep throwing bad things at the screen. There’s a car versus drone plane scene in a tunnel that reminded me of Die Hard With a Vengeance, which is not a good thing. The attempts to create tension in the final minutes play like they were taken from a Naked Gun movie, causing me to annoy my screening seatmates with disbelieving laughter. I kept expecting Leslie Nielsen to show up as the President of the United States. The movie’s ending finally comes and it’s a cheap, shitty cop out compounded with a smash you over the head political message (designed to appeal down the center of the aisle, of course) that erases any doubt as to the answer to this question: “Does DJ Caruso think I’m a moron?”
As I’m writing this review I realize I cannot get across to you the sense of just how dumb, how implausible, how poorly thought out and how lazily written this film actually is. I believe that it would take an audio commentary on the DVD release to truly capture the badness of the movie and the sheer hatred it displays for logic and reasoning. There are a dozen plotholes that can only be answered by saying ‘This event happens because the movie would end otherwise,’ which is the worst explanation possible.
I like Shia LaBeouf a lot. I liked Disturbia very much, and am looking forward to LaBeouf and Caruso once again collaborating on Y The Last Man. But Eagle Eye is a disaster, a bad film filled with stupidity, one that I hope represents a misstep on their collaborative path, not the future of it. The only title that works for this movie is Three Days of the Mongoloid.