In an era of action movie-making dominated by the Bournes, reimagined Bonds and gritty, realistic superhero movies a lá Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, it's something of a breath of fresh air when a film like Eagle Eye charges through like a clown with an AK-47 loaded with blanks - thrilling and entertaining, but ultimately forgettable except maybe as an aside in a pub conversation. Yes, I just likened a film to armed circus entertainment. Sue me.
The thing is that it's apparent from the get go that director DJ Caruso knows his movie is ridiculous, knows it to the roots of the trees the script was written on. But he knows he can do two things with it - first, blow a whole bunch of shit up with nary a backward glance, and second make some interesting characters that we care about enough to worry that they might be blown up with nary a backward glance - and these two things he pulls of admirably.
You've probably seen the trailers - it's one of those genuinely good ad campaigns that gives away the premise of the film, but doesn't actually give that much of the plot away. Is it cyber-terrorism? Is it an AI stalker? Is it just some nerds dicking about? Doesn't matter - what does matter is that Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBoeuf) has been 'activated', and now he's on the run from the FBI. Along the way he meets Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), and the two have to work together to figure out what the hell is going on. In hot pursuit is Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who's completely perplexed by the goings on, and unconvinced that they're doing it alone.
Sounds silly, and it is - but as I said, Caruso realises this from the get go and instead of focusing on his story, he instead propels the picture along at rocket-powered pace, barely stopping for air as the plot twists - each one more monumentally ridiculous than the last - rear their heads. The plot is a harking back to the days where story was peripheral to explosions, and it manages this beautifully, albeit with a slight techno-terrorism edge that – aside from having a white guy in office as of the 29th of January 2009 - more or less brings it bang up to date.
Caruso, it would seem, has a fantastic eye for action, and some of the set-pieces – preposterous though they may be – are excellently put together, with – bar one – a very physical edge to them.
Where it does fall down is where it does indeed stop for air, with a good half hour of the film’s hefty 118 minutes spent doing entirely peripheral exposition on characters outside of the main three. Exposition on Jerry, Rachel and Morgan is all well and good, but do we really need Rosario Dawson’s Agent Perez? Or Michael Chiklis’ under-fire Secretary of Defence? The answer is ‘no, not really’. Were it a trim 88 minutes, it would’ve been a superior film. As it stands, there’s still some flab that needed to be tightened out.
Which is a shame, because both Dawson – gorgeous as she is – and Chiklis are very fine actors, wasted in roles that needn’t be there for the film to work, and their performances seem to reflect this: the both of them phoning their performances is and holding their hands out for their paycheques.
On the flipside of that coin is LaBoeuf. The boy is trying his hardest, and whilst you can hardly credit him with a brilliant, nuanced performance – well, he’s better than the average bit of cardboard that populates most action movies. LaBoeuf has a genuinely likable quality to him, his presence giving some zest and anima to what could’ve otherwise been an all-too-dull picture. But perhaps the best thing is that Caruso never lets Jerry become a true action hero, his ‘action’ always being helped along by the primary antagonist. It’s a clever play on the usual riff off the ‘average Joe becomes gun-toting madman through deus ex machina’, because here there really is a God – or something – coming out of machines to help Jerry.
The remainder of the core trio seem to be having fun too – Billy Bob Thornton getting some of the choice lines and delivering them with his usual sly grin that can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Michelle Monaghan seems confident enough, but her performance has depth that the film is almost unworthy of, and it’s testament to the quality of the actress that this is the case.
It’s just such a shame that there’s a huge fall down on the story, with a highly unsatisfactory ending that does – for the third and final act – transcend into the realms of the surreal. To say that someone takes several bullets to the chest and lives is…well, it gives it away somewhat, and how the whole thing is tied together requires a real leap in logic that quite frankly I wasn’t prepared to accept. Then there’s the plane chase in the tunnel. Don’t ask.
But for what it is – a summer-type action thriller blockbuster – Eagle Eye is pretty good. Competently performed and stage, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re willing to switch your brain off, but this is certainly no masterpiece. Like my aforementioned clown, you’ll probably only bring it up when you’re drunk.