If you put all the pieces in order and let this high-gloss techno thriller unfold in a straightforward fashion, it'd be barely worth your time. But that's not really the point.
Inspired as much by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon as the TV series 24, Vantage Point's fractured tale of a presidential assassination attempt pumps the adrenaline by rewinding and replaying its elaborate terrorist attack, rotating the perspective to eight different characters played by an ensemble of veteran actors. There's a hard-as-nails news producer (Sigourney Weaver), a pair of Secret Service agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) assigned to protect the president (William Hurt), a vacationing tourist who captures clues on his palmcorder (Forest Whitaker), a reluctant assassin (Edgar Ramirez), a girlfriend-manipulated cop (Eduardo Noriega) and the explosive plot's ruthless mastermind (Said Taghmaoui).
As each version unfolds, the movie cleverly rearranges pieces of the puzzle, building on past clues and revealing earlier misdirections. It's an engaging device that draws you in and keeps you alert but begins to tire around the fourth or fifth take. Once all the threads come together, standard-issue car chases and shoot-outs kick in and some glaring holes in the narrative are revealed. (Where are the motives behind a pivotal double cross?)
But Irish director Peter Travis convincingly exploits current technological trends and post-9/11 paranoia about terrorism and surveillance to deliver a competent thriller that's built for speed. Taking cues from Paul Greengrass, Travis keeps things pulse-poundingly taut but lacks The Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum director's ability to inject savvy political subtext or emotional resonance.
The cast is, as you might expect, excellent and surprisingly mature; it's not often that Hollywood fills a big-budget actioner with middle-aged actors. The talents thicken even the thinnest of the many characters. Quaid's damaged Secret Service agent is the closest the film has to a protagonist — even if it rehashes Clint Eastwood's role in In the Line of Fire — and he gives the role more gravity than it deserves.
Though the process is more interesting than the final product, Vantage Point never overstays its welcome (it's barely 90 minutes), and its energy and inventiveness effectively obscure its numerous shortcomings. In other words, don't think too hard about it and you'll have a swell time.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.