Can you think of a movie with a good super-computer? From Hal through to Skynet through that computer that turned Richard Pryor into a robot in Superman III, super-computers equal bad news in movies. Luddite Hollywood doesn’t seem to trust advanced technology. Never mind the irony that most of the most memorable moments in modern blockbusters are made of ones and zeroes; on-screen, super-computers are not our friends. In the new techno-thriller Eagle Eye, yet another sleek, malign thinking machine is added to the villains’ roster. Was it always this way? Did ancient audiences boo the abacus whenever it appeared on-stage?
It all begins in Afghanistan. A bunch of Afghans get killed. Secretary of Defense Michael Chiklis appears to find this worrisome, but he’s swiftly bundled off-screen so the real movie can begin. Americans are also in danger! Maybe even… the President of the United States! Enter our hero, Shia LaBeouf, playing cards and establishing himself as a lovable ne’er-do-well. Shia has a significant twin brother whose funeral he attends about two scenes after we meet him. Two scenes after that he starts getting mysterious phone calls from a woman who needs him to act like Bruce Willis. Shia doesn’t seem keen at first, but a girl, a gun and one car chase later, he’s on the lamb faster than you can say Enemy of the State meets War Games.
Applying this movie to the ol’ preposterous-o-meter, I’d say what happens next rates about a hundred on a scale of one to ten. Eagle Eye is so little concerned with plausibility it makes Transformers look like a sober portrait of everyday life. Once you realise that, yes, this is an assassination attempt plot in which the bomb is hidden in a necklace that will be detonated when a small boy blows a trumpet… you either say, ok, Hitchcock did dumber things, or you start planning your own assassination attempt… on the screen-writer. Could anyone explain to me how power cables on an electricity pylon are ordered to snap? Or why the super-computer villain (why every super-computer villain) has a big eye it somehow requires to “see”?
Shia LaBeouf does his best to act like someone to whom a series of completely impossible things are actually happening. He’s gotten pretty good at it after Transformers and that crappy Indiana Jones denouement. Inheriting the wounded, smart-ass, man-child mantle from Mathew Broderick, he plays every role like Ferris Bueller if Ferris Bueller were broke. In Eagle Eye, he’s the hero, but you sort of wonder why he acts so heroic if he’s such an iconoclast. So what if the President is in danger? Why does that automatically mean everyone else has to lay down their life? What would be great (for Shia; and for any movie made post-certain Presidents) would be to have a hero stop for a second when he hears the President is in danger, and ask, for once, whether the President is worth saving.
Michelle Monaghan plays The Girl. She still looks like a Japanese comic book artist dreamed her up (big eyes, tiny nose, sexy tomboy-ish looks). Her character exists to give Shia someone to kiss, and to aim for chemistry, or as much chemistry as is possible when you’re leaping from smashed cars. She wears a nice dress for the finale, so you know she won’t get to fight anybody. Someday it’ll be The Boy watching the female lead do the exciting stuff, but alas, not today.
The moment you make a super-computer the bad guy, you’ve got problems, as far as thrillers go. Computers don’t have faces, so they’re ill equipped to sneer. Likewise, the lack of a voice-box means a long wait for a good, misplaced maniacal laugh. Computers are metal boxes, most of which don’t even have flashing lights affixed; they make for rubbish bad guys. Even when you give them an eye, they’re still a poor substitute for John Lithgow. Besides, everyone knows how to defeat an evil super-computer by now: you just pull out a few circuit boards. Eagle Eye is the kind of techno-thriller that reminds you why that prefix fills you with dread.