June 2024

Eagle Eye (2008)



Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Ethan Embry, William Sadler, Julianne Moore (voice)


The kind of movie that epitomizes brainless entertainment, Eagle Eye (reteaming director D.J. Caruso and star Shia LaBeouf from last year’s superior Disturbia, and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who penned the same year’s Transformers, which also starred LaBeouf and like this was produced by Steven Spielberg) can be a mindlessly entertaining ride as long as you check your brain at the door, but actually expecting anything onscreen to hold up to even perfunctory scrutiny is expecting too much from what’s on display.

We start with a mildly tense and engaging air strike made by US military intelligence against a suspected terrorist leader that has no great significance to anything that follows, except to provide us with a little opening action, and then we are introduced to Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), a slacker who dropped out of college and works at a Kinko’s-esque copy store. Jerry is having a bad day. No sooner has he buried his overachiever Air Force officer identical twin brother than he discovers $750,000 has miraculously appeared in his previously bankrupt bank account, and comes home to find his apartment filled with boxes containing high-tech weaponry, right before a phone call and a cool female voice helpfully informs him that the FBI is coming knocking. Arrested as a terrorist, Jerry escapes when the unseen conspirators somehow send a crane crashing through the interrogation room. Meanwhile, single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) is blackmailed by the same voice into joining Jerry, or else her son’s train taking him and his school band to D.C. will be derailed. Pursued by FBI and Air Force agents (Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson), Jerry and Rachel find their every move is monitored by the mysterious forces who seem to control everything from ATMs to surveillance cameras to cell phones to cranes to traffic lights to electronic advertising billboards, and are drawn into a plot targeting the hiearchy of the US government.

Eagle Eye is one in a series of recent ultra-paranoid, technology run amok techno thrillers in which technology built for surveillance and defense is used against common citizens (there are shades of both Enemy of the State and I, Robot, both of which were better movies). Movies like this tend to give computers and technology-savvy villains ridiculously omnipotent powers (exactly how does a computer make high-tension wires fall on someone at will?), and Eagle Eye takes them to preposterous levels. Nevermind that ATMs, cell phones, advertising billboards, traffic lights, and airport security scanners are not all run by one supercomputer somewhere; the filmmakers want to show us how uber-powerful the villain(s) is, so they are manipulated at whim. The entire jump-through-the-hoops nightmare ride Jerry and Rachel are forced on also turns out to be ridiculously convoluted, given how simple what he/she/it/them needed from them turns out to be in the first place. If there is any coherent underlying theme, it’s that just about any form of technology, including cell phones and traffic lights, is evil and will end up being used against you and make you its pawn, and we should all lock ourselves away in our homes, shuddering in terror of any form of modern technology (including the laptop I am typing this review on, the internet I am posting it on, and the cell phone sitting to my left, presumably sitting in deceptively innocuous silence while plotting to launch a sinister and unnecessarily convoluted plot that will force me to be a pawn in a techno bid for world domination).

I suppose Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan deserve some credit for maintaining such earnestness amid all the preposterous plot twists surrounding them at every turn. To the extent that the few quiet moments allow them, they make Jerry and Rachel into likable characters. In the supporting cast, Billy Bob Thornton gets to bark out a few dry one-liners (one feels like he got cast in this role after Tommy Lee Jones wasn’t available), but he and Rosario Dawson don’t get anything to do besides chase LaBeouf and Monaghan around, and Michael Chiklis gets even less as the Secretary of Defense. William Sadler has a bit part as LaBeouf’s dad, and the voice of SPOILER WARNING: the I, Robot esque supercomputer making all those coldly to-the-point phone calls is provided by an uncredited Julianne Moore.

Eagle Eye does have entertaining moments. The opening premise is deviously effective, as Jerry and Rachel are first ‘activated’, like something almost Hitchcockian (what follows is not worthy of the name). There’s lots of car chases and frantic running around and military/government types looking serious and concerned. A couple action sequences stand out, including a semi overturning and a drone attack plane swooping into a tunnel after Jerry. The movie also gains something from Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan, who seem like regular people and are more palatable to follow around than if they’d cast some one-dimensional grunting action hero like Sylvester Stallone or (shudder) Steven Seagal, that would have pushed Eagle Eye over the limit from ‘mindlessly diverting’ to ‘unwatchable’. The movie goes on its ridiculous way slickly and with the panache of a film that knows where it’s going, and there’s little time for boredom, although it starts to feel a little overlong toward the climax. It also sometimes stays into the ‘so goofy it’s made more entertaining by its own goofiness’, with the temptation after being barraged by preposterously over-the-top techno paranoia babble to simply throw up your hands and laugh at the fast-paced silliness.

If you want a plot that holds up to scrutiny, avoid Eagle Eye like the plague. If you want deep character development, this is not the movie for you. If you’re bored and don’t mind brainless entertainment, the movie may divert you for a couple of hours, provided you just sit back and don’t do any thinking in the interim.