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Eagle Eye

Year: 2008
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
Director: D J Caruso
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Writer: John Glenn/Travis Adam Wright/Hillary Seitz/Dan McDermott
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, William Sadler, Julianne Moore

Ham-fisted AI stories are always a let-down. Or I should say, stories about AI are always ham-fisted. Most screenwriters have absolutely no knowledge even of the theory of AI and they think a steady-voiced automaton who learns a few catchphrases is a passable character (Stealth, we're looking at you).

That's the first problem with the second Caruso/LeBeouf/Spielberg Hitchcock homage (after Disturbia). The second is that even though it's action packed, Caruso has gone overboard on the immersive camerawork. We don't see car chases, we see split-second flashes of metal and light that try too hard to portray the urgency of a car chase rather than the visuals of it. It's too gritty, too close and too hard to see.

It's a clever trick used by cost-conscious directors who don't have the funds to wrangle a 'real' car chase, but surely with Spielberg's producing clout behind him Caruso could write his own cheque?

Take away those elements and you have a passable thriller as a no hoper (LeBeouf) returns home from his go-getter brother's funeral to find his apartment stocked with terrorist memorabilia. A strange woman calls him and starts issuing instructions for him to evade the authorities closing in. Unbeknown to him, the same woman calls a single mother (Monaghan) who's just seen her young son off on a school trip, threatening his life unless she complies.

After that, too many minor characters who could have been condensed into a single one just shift focus off the effective paranoia.

It's all part of an implausible plan by an appropriately cinematic AI system (a huge chamber with thousands of lights, a robotic arm and huge, baleful eye and a calm pool on the floor) the US government has installed to combat terrorism. And in the finest tradition of Fail-Safe , WarGames and a dozen others, the AI system has decided the US President and his entire cabinet are a security threat and hatches a hare-brained scheme to despatch them all by stringing the hero and heroine along at every step.

The other problem with it is that the all-knowing, all-controlling super-intelligent machine that's plugged into every electronic system around the world has left an awful lot to chance, like betting on the hero and heroine having stunt-driving ability when pursued by the law, for instance.

It's indeed Hitchockian in that we learn the mystery backwards - the scheme has been hatched, it all starts with a single phone call and we're left trying to piece it all together with the heroes while they're on the run.

But the usual cack handed warnings about how vulnerable we are in such a connected society abound and if you think of it as a forgettable thriller you might enjoy it. As long as you look away during the chase sequences.

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