Friday, April 6, 2012
Echelon Conspiracy (2009) vs. Eagle Eye (2008)
Echelon Conspiracy has a lot in common with a major motion picture that was released at about the same time, that being Eagle Eye (2009). However, its real roots stretch back to War Games (1983), with West having all the machismo of a nerdy, near shut-in Seattle teenager. But there is at least some degree of internal consistency and thought put into Echelon Conspiracy. It may all be ridiculous, but there is a sense that everyone involved – excepting, perhaps, Martin Sheen – knows that the premise of the movie is beyond any rational belief, and that allows for the action to be fun without imposing any threat of real consequence.
There is the oddity that everyone in Prague, at least those we see, speaks English (and most seem to be American). One would think that Czech, Slovak, Russian, and German would be more common, but that wouldn't allow for our American technician, FBI agent, former FBI agent, and combat-trained agent girl to just go around like they were in some kind of not America that accepted English as the default language and the Americans as the guardians of order. Actually, there is some nice, if overstated, commentary on that last bit to close the film.
Without a huge budget, Echelon Conspiracy does not rely heavily on special effects to move the action along. There are a fair amount of practical effects, most of them in that range between oh my god, this is as bad as those Sci-Fi original movies and the Jason Bourne films. Yes, using a shotgun blast to blow up a gas tank and thus send the car twenty feat in the air is stupid, but it is the fun kind of stupid. It takes the false toughness of the 1980s and manages to treat it with nostalgia while admitting that there is no way to take it seriously. Watching someone implore a computer – or rather a complex set of programs that allows for a Skynet-like diffusion over all connected computers – to learn how its stated programming is
The same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. They seem universally confused as to why they are not allowed to do more than spend long sequences reacting to things that will be added in post-production. If there were more continuity to the story, maybe the scenes where Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson are together wouldn't feel so damn awkward to watch.
Where Echelon Conspiracy may have some destructive chase sequences, they are limited to cars operated by actual people, Eagle Eye decides that wholesale destruction from mysterious sources should rule the day. So mass transit trains can get thrown in reverse like it is nothing (which shocked me, because as a regular rider of the CTA, I know that this cannot be done via remote access), construction booms can be swung around with exact timing (and we should ignore the fact that they cannot generate the force to rip through half a floor of a steel building), and the aforementioned scrap metal claw cranes operate like some demented form of the coin operated grab-a-toy crane games.
There is also a complete and total lack of internal consistency. The overriding program is supposed to be in some sort of a lock down stopping it from going through with its dastardly plan. Mind you, this isn't a plan that is essentially what it has been programmed to do – which is how Echelon Conspiracy handles it – but rather something it has extrapolated to being a good and necessary step towards being able to perform its stated function. However, it takes all of its steps during this lockdown. There is no need to get Jerry (LaBeouf) or Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) at all, and no computer would go through the trouble of picking people from a thousand miles away from the objective. They are selected so the audience can watch them have adventures while trying to survive the various dangers.
Eagle Eye doesn't even look that much more polished than its lower budget counterpart. It looks hurried and ill-considered. It doesn't seem to be at all aware of just how stupid it is, which makes me think that the people involved thought it was a serious type of thriller. It isn't. I'm sure there are people who would enjoy it, but I can't imagine why. At least Echelon Conspiracy had a better grasp on balancing the plot with the improbability of it all.