“Rachel’s kid plays the trumpet!” That’s one of the very exciting lines of dialogue shouted in “Eagle Eye,” a preposterous but not altogether unamusing techno-thriller about government surveillance and the innocent civilians caught in its web. (Dick Cheney calls it “the feel-good hit of the season!”) The line reminded me of the classic Tom Hanks exclamation in “The Da Vinci Code”: “I have to get to a library, FAST!”
It took four people to write that snazzy dialogue, by the way, and one man, D.J. Caruso, to direct the movie. Caruso is reunited with his “Disturbia” star, Shia LaBeouf, who plays an unambitious Chicago slacker named Jerry Shaw, who comes home one day to find his apartment filled with suspicious things like guns and explosive devices. A mysterious phone call warns him that the FBI is about to show up and arrest him, which proves to be true. Shortly thereafter, the mysterious voice calls him again and helps him escape from FBI custody.
More mysterious phone calls and electronic messages bring Jerry to a rendezvous with Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a single mom who’s been getting calls from the same anonymous woman. Whoever’s behind this has blackmailed Jerry into cooperating by way of planting that stuff in his apartment, and they’ve coerced Rachel by threatening to derail the train that her son is on. Yes, the son who plays the trumpet.
The nameless woman who keeps calling Jerry and Rachel is seemingly omniscient and omnipotent. She can always see them because there are surveillance cameras pretty much everywhere nowadays, and she can somehow access all of them, even the ones operated by private citizens rather than the government. Mysterious Voice Lady (MVL) can always hear what Jerry and Rachel are saying, too, by way of their cell phones. Even when the cell phones are turned off, she can activate the microphones. In fact, MVL is so powerful that when Jerry ditches his phone, she simply calls the phone belonging to the man sitting next to him on the train. The man is dozing, and MVL makes his phone light up with the words “PICK UP, JERRY.”
Oh, and she can control the cranes at an auto-wrecking yard hundreds of miles away from where she is.
MVL’s powers stretch the bounds of believability, to say the least, and what starts as a half-decent paranoia thriller about Big Brother soon goes overboard. You have to give up on buying any of it and resign yourself to being entertained by the intensity and the energy (and by Billy Bob Thornton, in the Tommy Lee Jones role as the dogged FBI agent pursuing Jerry and Rachel).
Caruso can slap together a decent action sequence when necessary, with as much reckless collateral damage as you please. You want a thrilling car chase where dozens of innocent bystanders and law-enforcement personnel are injured or killed but from which the main characters escape unscathed? You got it! Meanwhile, back in Washington, government officials (including Michael Chiklis as the Secretary of Defense) are very concerned about American casualties overseas.
It all ties in to the conspiracy at the center of the film, one of those elaborate plans where, once it’s all been revealed, you think, “Was this really the simplest method you could conceive to accomplish this?” Surely there are easier ways. Caruso’s last film, “Disturbia,” was a blatant rip-of of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”; this time, he’s looking at “North by Northwest” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” plus more than a little from a certain non-Hitchcock, late-’60s sci-fi classic. I can think of about 2,001 things wrong with “Eagle Eye,” and Caruso’s skills (and those of his eager and competent cast) would be better used in a less ludicrous, more plausible story. This one’s pure junk, albeit moderately entertaining junk.
C+ (1 hr., 58 min.; )