Eagle Eye


On reflection: this review may contain SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.

As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I was imprinted early on with various doomsday scenarios that could ensue when an artificial intelligence became smart enough to outfox the humans who created it. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, it started killing astronauts. In Demon Seed, it raped Julie Christie. In WarGames, it nearly started World War III. So watching Eagle Eye — dopey as it is — is a little like coming home. This sci-fi thriller is all about a monstrous, HAL 9000-like supercomputer that collates information gathered under the auspices of the Patriot Act, becomes self-aware, and, upon reflection on the collateral damage caused by America’s reckless “war on terror,” decides, essentially, to effect regime change in the U.S. As an election-year riff on current events, it’s moderately clever, even though it has no nerve whatsoever. (Last year’s Shooter had more guts.) But I can’t stress enough how goofy it is. The climax is essentially the Get Smart movie played with a straight face. That’s Eagle Eye‘s biggest problem. DJ Caruso has enjoyably preposterous material — it’s sort of like Live Free or Die Hard for the left wing — and he approaches it with a portentousness that kills the fun.

To carry out its plan, this all-powerful supercomputer — which can apparently take control of just about any device connected to the Internet, from cell phones and traffic lights to junkyard cranes and drone airplanes — selects ne’er-do-well copy clerk Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), for reasons that are eventually explained, and single-mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), for reasons that remain a little murky. The computer, nicknamed with the spy-movie acronym ARIA, commandeers Jerry and Rachel’s cell phones, declaring in an authoritarian female voice several shades less friendly than the one your bank uses to tell you to please press 1 (I couldn’t find a voice credit but for some reason I kept imagining Joan Allen), “You have been activated,” and then barking instructions. Having framed Jerry as a terrorist, ARIA makes it clear that unless he follows orders he’ll be sentenced to life (and/or death) in federal prison. Rachel cooperates because ARIA threatens to kill her young son, a freckle-faced trumpeter on a band trip to Washington, DC. Completing the formula is a hard-nosed FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones Billy Bob Thornton) who slowly begins to suspect that these aren’t the hardened terrorists he’s looking for. Et cetera.

Michelle Monaghan and some guy who used to be famous
Michelle Monaghan and some guy who used to be famous

The level of coordinated mayhem in which Eagle Eye wallows is fairly impressive, from a chase down packed avenues and through coordinated traffic lights in Chicago and into a junkyard, huge claws swinging overhead and plucking cars from the ground, to air-to-ground carnage on the streets of Washington. And it’s at least entertaining when it exhibits something approaching a sense of humor — the film’s single best sequence exploits post-9/11 airport security in a way that could almost pass as wry, including a ridiculous tumble through the baggage-handling areas that seems to have been stolen wholesale from Toy Story 2 — because if Caruso has any other directorial style, it’s not in evidence. He has no patience here for character development (there are perfunctory, unconvincing nods in that direction in between set pieces) and little time at all for Monaghan, who seems to be settled into a rut of playing roles that define her only by her relationship to men and/or children.

Caruso’s previous Disturbia was a pretty good Rear Window knock-off, but the effective part of that movie was the low-key, seriocomic relationship between PG-13 voyeur-in-training LaBeouf and the outrageously hot chick next door (Sarah Roemer). Its weakness was the rote action-thriller elements that dominated the third act and Eagle Eye is all rote action-thriller.

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