If you leave your brains with the ticket-taker, then there's a good chance you might enjoy Eagle Eye, the stripped-down, hyperactive new chase film executive-produced by Steven Spielberg. If you think about its muffled politics or its general plausibility for more than a few seconds, though, you won't be able to appreciate some of its mildly diverting close calls and narrow escapes.
Shia LeBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, a feisty, recalcitrant minimum-wage ant estranged from his wealthy father and his recently deceased military-hero twin brother. Stopping off to cash a check after his brother's funeral, Shaw discovers that his once-empty bank account is now literally bursting with cash. And when he returns to his tiny apartment, he finds that it is now bursting as well, with explosives and terrorist weaponry. Soon he's on the run from a pair of all-business government agents (Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson) and following orders from a demented GPS system that can manipulate anything plugged into an outlet. Shaw's only chance for survival depends on plucky single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) and a series of outlandish, belabored mini-missions. What is the ultimate goal of this convoluted cross-country cannonball run? Who — or what — is the mastermind in charge of everything from stop lights to cell phones? And why does every evil supercomputer look sort of like HAL 9000?
Even more importantly, which Shia LeBeouf will show up for this uninspiring gig? (And was he paid cash?) Will we see the small-shouldered, sensitive guy whose palpable emotional turmoil energizes great movies like Bobby and A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints? Or must we gape at the flighty young stud peeking out from within the CGI landscapes of Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Actually, since LeBeouf spends most of his screen time either running or flinging cell phones into the street, you can probably guess the answer to that one.
At best, director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) is a moron's Hitchcock whose most effective suspense sequences are shameless ripoffs from Hitchcock's later career. There's a concert with a deadly crescendo like The Man Who Knew Too Much, and the spyplane/freeway tunnel showdown is a neat inversion of the crop-duster sequence in North By Northwest. But even Hitchcock's zaniest sequences followed a mordant logic. Eagle Eye is often too ridiculous in its embrace of one-in-a-million chances; once the frail Monaghan out-toughs a pair of trained security guards with a well-timed shotgun blast, all bets are off. Ironically, if Eagle Eye had a surer sense of humor about itself, its themes could be taken more seriously.
Plus, Caruso needs to slow down if he wants to put anything memorable on screen. He's got a nice feel for urban architectural landscapes, but he won't let the camera sit still for an instant. Shot variation and shot length can and do increase tension. The long, still shots of Cary Grant in the middle of nowhere make North By Northwest's crop-duster sequence linger in memory. Eagle Eye, on the other hand, disappears as it's happening. Honestly, I can feel my memory of it fading as I type.