Eagle Eye again puts it-star Shia LaBeouf on the run in an aggressive, if just-above-average, action techno-thriller, that’s nowhere near as surprisingly agile or amusing as Transformers or Disturbia.
Disturbia, LaBeouf’s breakout hit from 2007, was the last collaboration between the actor, director D.J. Caruso and executive producer Steven Spielberg (who shepherded Disturbia through DreamWorks, now swallowed up by Paramount ).
That film played like a Cameron Crowe version of Rear Window. Reportedly based on a Spielberg idea, Eagle Eye plays like a Jerry Bruckheimer version of North By Northwest. It’s no coincidence that LaBeouf and co-star Michelle Monaghan travel from Chicago to Washington, D.C. — south by southeast.
Eagle Eye cribs from many other movies, too (Enemy of the State, The Game, Arlington Road), pushing harder, faster and stronger in an effort to distract. To list its other influences would spoil its twists.
Even if the film is more exhausting than exhilarating and its stated goal of techno-creepiness never takes chilling hold, it works in full-tilt action fashion. Harder to swallow from Spielberg is its cautionary take on technology; this from a guy who used computers to eliminate guns from characters’ hands in an E.T. re-release.
It’s symbolically sensible for Eagle Eye to start in the flatlands, wedded as it is to an idea of an earth flattened by technology. Thomas Friedman, of The New York Times, would appreciate adherence to his famously floated theory even as Eagle Eye explodes — and, at times, exploits — it for paranoia.
Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) is an aimless copy-shop clerk, doomed to live in the shadow of his ambitious twin Ethan (also LaBeouf) even after Ethan dies in a car accident. As Jerry, LaBeouf is uncommonly good in his early emotional moments, mostly because his bantamweight figure looks so common. As an actor, LaBeouf is like that kid down the street who once cut your grass but has made good for himself.
Buying into Jerry’s burden is crucial given what awaits him when he arrives home from Ethan’s funeral – $750,000 in his checking account and a cachet of high-tech weaponry in his apartment.
A call to Jerry’s cell phone from an anonymous female voice advises him to escape before federal agents storm his pad. In his confusion, Jerry is caught and grilled by anti-terrorist agent Tom Morgan (a reliably wily Billy Bob Thornton). Soon enough, though, the phone rings again and the voice behind it somehow rigs his escape.
Ominously omniscient, the voice knows Jerry’s whereabouts at all times, seizes control of gizmos or gadgets at will and threatens Jerry with death should he disobey.
Soon, Jerry is plunged into a cross-country cat-and-mouse game of global proportions, along with Rachel (Monaghan, in another non-starter role), a single mom whose son the voice has somehow put in harm’s way.
Numerous action scenes range from playful (a human variation on the airplane-baggage hangar climax of Toy Story 2) to punishing (an attack by a low-flying drone straight out of Mission: Impossible III). Caruso can only make visual sense out of a couple of them. But it’s LaBeouf’s blustery performance, the story’s energy and the muted urban color palette (reminiscent of leaner conspiracy thrillers) that carry the movie.
Caruso and LaBeouf do seem to have a flair for disposable pop junk. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the future when not flooring the accelerator on a vehicle previously owned by Alfred Hitchcock.