'Eagle Eye': Flight Control, By Kurt Loder

Shia LaBeouf pinned down by pyro.

"Eagle Eye" is yet another action movie aimed at people unfamiliar with the tremendous strides made in special effects over the last 15 years. People of, say, seven or so.

The story — a crumb of inspiration flicked off the lapel of executive producer Steven Spielberg some years back — is intriguing, if hardly fresh. Stubbly slacker Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) checks into his undernourished ATM account one day and discovers that it suddenly contains $750,000. Proceeding on to his ratty apartment, he finds it stacked to the rafters with high-tech weaponry and serious explosives. His cell phone rings. A woman's voice tells him to run — the FBI is on the way. Jerry, slow on the uptake, is still processing this command when the FBI does in fact charge in, more riotously than one might think necessary. He's dragged off to headquarters, where an agent named Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) says he knows Jerry's a terrorist. Jerry is given his requisite one phone call. When he picks up the receiver, he hears the mysterious woman's voice on the line again, informing him he's about to be busted out. You can see this sequence in the movie's trailer. But then you can see most of its niftier sequences in the trailer.

Meanwhile, a divorced mom named Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) is putting her eight-year-old son on a train to D.C., where he'll be playing the trumpet with his school band at some Kennedy Center wingding. (This later turns out to be relevant, in a ridiculous way.) Soon, Rachel gets a call on her cell, with the same woman telling her to get moving or her son's train will be derailed. Rachel gets moving.

Meanwhile (this is a movie with many meanwhiles — it seems to have been edited with a hand grenade), Jerry continues to receive travel instructions from the omniscient voice — on his cell phone, on the cell phone of somebody sitting next to him, on digital train-station signs and store-window TV sets. Finally, he's told to hop into a nearby Porsche, and who should be driving it but — Rachel. Vrooom!

They bicker nonstop, of course, while the voice — which sounds like an overbearing dashboard GPS unit — keeps issuing perplexing commands. ("Get in the crate!" "Go to Macy's!") There are detours to Chicago and Indianapolis, through an unflagging storm of gunfire and explosions. Are there still people who'll goggle with incredulous delight at the sight of a jet plane chasing a car through a tunnel? Or even an out-of-control 18-wheeler doing somersaults down a street? And while I don't believe I've ever seen a bullet-fueled chase along a serpentine cargo conveyer belt, and I'm sure it was tricky to stage, it's oddly monotonous.

LaBeouf and Monaghan are fine actors, of course, and you can feel the film's four screenwriters trying to shoehorn occasional non-explosive moments into the script in which they can develop their characters. (Rachel's ex was a bad dad; Jerry is estranged from his father; guess where this is going.) But no sooner do these few attempts to actually tell a story begin than another round of ka-booming ensues, thunder drums rear up on the soundtrack, and the peculiar tedium of pyrotechnic overload envelops us once again.

Which at least gives us time to glumly ponder the plot's many improbabilities. How likely is it, for example, that when Jerry and Rachel are in desperate need of a getaway, a bus full of Japanese tourists would suddenly pull up and offer them a lift? For that matter, why have these two inconsequential individuals been chosen to foment a gynormous governmental melt-down when the all-powerful force that's pulling their strings could clearly do that fomenting itself? (The identity of this sinister agency will be intuited by Stanley Kubrick adepts long before its formal revelation, in much the same way that admirers of Alfred Hitchcock will instantly recognize the source of the movie's big Kennedy Center sequence.)

That director D.J. Caruso is a talented filmmaker was clear in his last picture, the compact thriller "Disturbia" (which also starred LaBeouf). Here, though, he seems to have lost his way amid the big bucks of a blockbuster budget, which is too bad. Hell-raising action is one of the many pleasures that movies can offer. "Eagle Eye" is an unintended demonstration of why it shouldn't be the only one.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of "Towelhead," "Choke" and "The Midnight Meat Train," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Eagle Eye."

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