by Jeff Meyers
If D.J. Caruso's last outing with Shia LaBeouf — Disturbia — was a teenage take on Rear Window, then his new wrong-man thriller is the high-tech version of North by Northwest. Only instead of a death-defying encounter with a crop duster, our hero (along with Michelle Monaghan) is stranded amid high voltage electric towers rigged to burn him to a cinder.
It's not that an attempt to update Hitchcock's such a bad idea; it's that we've seen many of Eagle Eye's dramatic elements before. And in better movies. From its War Games political overtones to its Enemy of the State-style surveillance motif, Caruso's ADD approach to the Hollywood paranoid thriller has only one good twist (which I won't give away here) in its bag of standard-issue, tech-thriller tricks.
After a brief military interlude and quick introductions to its characters, Eagle Eye launches into a truly boffo action set piece (highlighted in the film's trailers) that summons our heavy reliance and trust of electronic devices. Returning home from his twin brother's funeral, Jerry Shaw (the likeable LaBeouf) discovers that he's been framed as a terrorist. Guided by a mysterious woman's voice on his cell phone, he evades the authorities in an outlandish and cleverly choreographed chase sequence. Meanwhile, Rachel Holloman (Monaghan), a single mom, also receives a call from the mysterious woman, who threatens to kill her 8-year-old son if she doesn't follow instructions. Before you can say "romantic interest," the two stars are thrown together, dodging a dogged FBI agent (Billy Bob Thornton) and desperately trying to figure out what their faceless enemy, who seems to have limitless power, is intending to do.
Once Caruso gives up the secret — about halfway into the film — his otherwise engaging suspenser turns into a predictable action film that covers its elaborate plot points, but mostly trades in overdirected chases, bombings, car crashes and explosions. The film's second half is bombast, a barrage of incoherent mayhem and hard-to-follow chases. Caruso knows how to elevate your heart rate but can't bring the action into focus. And much like Disturbia, which undermined its clever set-up with a clichéd psycho-in-the-house showdown, Eagle Eye fizzles rather than pops at its end.
Sure, Caruso's film is, in the most superficial of ways, politically minded. His writers do a credible job of exploiting our post-9/11 fears of a government that is always listening and watching. But really, it's fancy icing on a generic cake. If you're looking for a really good paranoid political thriller, rent Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation.