Movie Review: Eagle Eye
By Matthew Huntley
October 1, 2008

Oh look. Shia is running from the law. Again.

Eagle Eye (2008) will draw inevitable comparisons to Enemy of the State (1998), and rightly so, because it's an inferior rip-off. Both are thrillers in which the protagonists are hunted down by the government and can be seen anywhere at any time on the planet with advanced technology. They also contain high-tech chase scenes, slick production values and a plot involving government conspiracy.

Heck, even their posters look alike and the phrase "enemy of the state" is uttered in the newest movie. Surely they must have been distributed by the same studio, perhaps to cash in on cross-promotion, but their distributor is one of the few differences between them.

Whereas Enemy, which starred Will Smith and Gene Hackman, was fresher, more credible, and a sophisticated thriller for adults, Eagle Eye functions more as escapist entertainment for the MTV crowd. Is this a bad thing? Not at all, and I might have liked it more had it come out before Enemy of the State, because it does have some exciting moments of its own. But I can't rightfully recommend a movie that so blatantly steals from others of its kind.

Shia LaBeouf stars as Jerry Shaw, a slacker and Stanford dropout who suddenly finds himself being labeled a terrorist by the FBI. Shortly after his twin brother's funeral, Jerry discovers $750,000 has been inexplicably deposited into his bank account, while several packages containing guns, chemicals and explosives have been delivered to his apartment. After digging through them, he immediately gets a phone call from an unidentified woman, who tells him the FBI will be at his apartment in 30 seconds and that he must flee the premises. But the FBI captures him and he's interrogated by Agent Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who sternly informs him, "You're in a lot of trouble son."

Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a single mother, experiences a similar dilemma when the mystery woman calls and tells her the train taking her son to Washington, D.C. will derail unless she gets into a car at the end of the street and does exactly what she's told. Every electronic device around her, including the televisions at McDonald's, is somehow manipulated by the woman on the phone.

When Jerry makes his one phone call from FBI headquarters ("I didn't realize I got one"), he gets another call from the mystery lady, who helps him escape. After jumping onto a train track from, oh, three stories up, Jerry is instructed to join Rachel in the black car and the two of them become partners in a dangerous, classified operation, whether they want to or not. The reason they play along is because the nameless woman on the other end of the line can seemingly kill them at will. Just look at what she does to the poor Middle Eastern man under the power lines. And it's not like they can just throw away their cell phone; she'll dial the stranger sitting next to them if she has to.

What Jerry and Rachel's mission is, I will not reveal, but needless to say it involves a lot of stagy chase scenes, product placement, excessive exposition and one crazy plot. When such a movie is geared towards teenagers, how could it not?

The good thing about Eagle Eye is that it's competently made and sometimes fun to watch. As pure popcorn fluff, it's sharp, fast, and flows at a pace so that we're at least partially entertained, albeit on a dumb level. I'll admit I was never bored during this movie, and the car chase in which Jerry and Rachel must out-drive the FBI - first on the street then in a junk yard - was exciting, even though a similar stoplight tactic was done before in The Italian Job. However, there was one sequence I had never seen filmed before and it involved airport conveyor belts. Given the setting, this was a clever idea.

For teenagers, Eagle Eye will serve as fun escapism, and I'm not going to waste time trashing the incredulous plot, because most movies have incredulous plots, though perhaps not to this degree. But just because The Bourne movies are darker and edgier doesn't mean they're any more believable. Plus, I never got the impression the filmmakers ever took the plot too seriously. Yes, it does deal with issues like terrorism and it does seem like it's supposed to take place within our reality, with modern technology, but it's not trying to be realistic. It uses these things merely as thresholds for stunts, gadgets and outrunning bad guys.

My problem with Eagle Eye goes back to the beginning of my review - it's a shameless rip-off of better movies and gives us too much of the same (I've already named three movies it borrows from). The chase sequences are cool, but how many times have we seen a chase sequence? Enemy of the State wasn't wholly original, either, as it borrowed its fundamental ideas from Coppola's The Conversation, but the context of its scenes was fresher.

The characters are adequate but nothing special. LaBeouf's Jerry, like many of his recent movie characters, is a slacker, but at least he's not a punk. He makes for a tolerable hero, and for once, I didn't feel like smacking him upside the head. Monaghan is satisfactory, too, but really, I think any mainstream Hollywood actors could have played their roles. These types of roles aren't for actors so much as they are roles for celebrities.

Billy Bob Thornton was the only one who seemed to act and not show off. He's straight and convincing in the absurd plot, and he manages to bring himself down to earth as the veteran FBI agent who doesn't have time for bull. He's direct and frank in the way only Billy Bob can be, as when he tells off an Air Force Agent (Rosario Dawson) working her own angle on the case.

Eagle Eye was directed by D.J. Caruso, who last teamed up with LaBeouf on the reprehensible Disturbia, another teenage thriller that more or less ripped off Rear Window. It seems whenever the two of them work together, the end result is a rehash of a better movie. But Eagle Eye is better than Disturbia for two reasons: we don't loathe the main character and it actually entertains a degree. For their next project, Caruso and LaBeouf should try their hands at something more original, and not just a guaranteed moneymaker. Right now, they're making the kinds of movies Tropic Thunder would love to tear apart.