A slickly packaged yet ultimately unpersuasive political action thriller, Eagle Eye collapses under the weight of various story incongruities, in large part because its sprawling, conspiratorial plot and mode of storytelling don’t ever quite fully align.
A re-teaming of Disturbia director D.J. Caruso and star Shia LaBeouf, the movie represents a crucial test of commercial leading man viability for the young actor. Set in and around Washington D.C., the story centers on a piecemeal terrorist plot, with different “cells” being activated against their will. Disaffected copy shop employee Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) finds his life turned upside down when his twin brother mysteriously dies. Returning from the funeral, he discovers his apartment crammed with bomb-making supplies. A strange woman calls his cell phone and orders him to flee, but Jerry is captured, and questioned by FBI Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton).
Simultaneously, single mother Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) sends her 8-year-old son off on a school field trip, only to get a call from the same woman threatening to derail his train if Rachel doesn’t obey her orders. The voice on the phone is soon revealed to be a rogue, omnipotent government defense computer system, who brings together strangers Jerry and Rachel and parcels out instructions that unwittingly lead the pair into complicity in a scheme to eliminate most of the United States’ elected government. In pursuit of the on-the-lam duo, along with Morgan, is Air Force investigator Zoe Perez (Rosario Dawson).
Hatched several years ago by executive producer Steven Spielberg as a techno-phobic thriller, Eagle Eye shows the wear of much tinkering by many writers. The wildly preposterous plot hinges on governmental hyper-competence at a time when all evidence in the real world points to the contrary, and isn’t aided by brawny sequences that paint a colorful picture of the super-computer’s god-like abilities, which stand in stark contrast to the third-act messiness it spawns in trying to concoct a ruse that will eventually frame Jerry and Rachel.
Furthermore, there’s a baffling, poorly conceived scene mid-film — nakedly designed to pull the audience along, and distract from narrative potholes — in which the computer summons Jerry and Rachel to a consumer electronics store and reveals a portion of their mission. This would be akin to the Man Behind the Curtain outing himself halfway through The Wizard of Oz, just because.
Former television director Caruso has proven himself a stylish shooter of genre fare, and Eagle Eye is his biggest outing to date. From a technical point-of-view, the film is fairly well put together, though a first act car chase sequence is choppily edited, and lacks spatial clarity. Unfortunately, the method of conveyance doesn’t match the degree to which the story is steeped in paranoia and invasion of privacy. A grittier treatment or more futuristic setting would have been more in keeping with the story’s themes. Or a compelling case could be made for a tone of polished, heightened absurdity similar to this summer’s international hit Wanted. By spurning either of these more stylized visual approaches, Eagle Eye feels trapped between two worlds. (Paramount, PG-13, 117 minutes)