Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 16, 2008)
Slowly but surely, Shia LaBeouf has turned into a solid box office draw. It’s no surprise he’s had hits with titles like Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; both were pre-sold to audiences, so LaBeouf’s presence didn’t seem to impact their success.
However, LaBeouf has been able to lead projects to the top of the box office charts. He did this with 2007’s Disturbia and he accomplished it again with 2008’s action-thriller Eagle Eye. No, the latter’s $100 million gross didn’t set the world on fire, but it demonstrated that LaBeouf could “open” a movie and bring in a decent box office total.
Reunited with Disturbia director DJ Caruso, Eagle Eye casts LaBeouf as Jerry Shaw, an ordinary – though smooth-talking - 20-something drone at Copy Cabana. His life gets a jolt when his twin brother Ethan dies and he briefly reunites with his estranged family.
After the funeral, Jerry’s life takes a turn for the weird. Though perpetually broke, he suddenly finds hundreds of thousands of dollars in his bank account. He also finds boxes of military weapons and other items stashed in his apartment. A cryptic called tells him he’s been “activated” and warns him to immediately depart so he can avoid FBI incarceration. Jerry doesn’t listen, so he ends up under questioning from agent Tom Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton). However, the mysterious forces intervene and allow for his escape.
We also meet Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a single mother. After she sends her son Sam (Cameron Boyce) away on a school trip, she receives the same weird message about being “activated”. She gets guided to the wheel of a Porsche Cayenne, a vehicle into which the powers also place Jerry. This sends the pair on a shared journey to flee the various authorities, figure out what’s behind their adventures, and maybe even stay alive.
Some movies require a little suspension of disbelief, while others demand a lot. Eye falls into the “hunka-buncha suspension required” category. Actually, I think one must put the logical side of your brain on hold for a movie like this than for something like Transformers because Eye tries to exist in the real world. Transformers never pretends to be anything other than straight fantasy, but Eye wants us to accept it as something that could occur in reality.
In that manner, it fails. At no point does Eye seem particularly plausible, and it comes chock full of plot holes. It requires far too many coincidences and bits of magic to enter the realm of reality. Because we’re supposed to view it as part of the real world, its lack of believability causes it to lose some points.
Eye also gets zapped a bit due to the manner in which it flaunts its influences. At times, the film feels like a conglomeration of ideas taken from other flicks. In particular, Enemy of the State comes as an obvious precursor, and I see bits of The Matrix, Hitchcock and other flicks as well. Originality never becomes one of the movie’s strongest points.
But you know what? Eye entertains despite its flaws. While the story elements may seem derivative, the main plot itself keeps us involved. Caruso takes a potentially complicated tale and delivers it in a way that minimizes its messiness. With a mix of borderline extraneous characters and plot complications, the movie easily could – and probably should – have turned into a perpetually confusing, off-putting production.
To my surprise, that never occurs. Instead, Caruso keeps things on point. Elements that could’ve been mystifying instead seem intriguing. The movie dollops out just enough plot elements to keep us interested. We always feel curious to see where the film will go next, but the film avoids the traps that might come with its often obtuse nature.
LaBeouf’s natural charm continues to serve him well. Despite his youth, he manifests a nice “everyman” feel that makes him perfect for projects like this. In some ways, he often plays similar roles, but unlike someone such as Seth Rogen, LaBeouf doesn’t seem the same in his movies. Nothing here extends LaBeouf beyond the “ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances” theme of many other characters, but he still manages to make Jerry seem three-dimensional and not like the same old thing.
Caruso also handles the flick’s many action scenes well. I could live without his preference for hand-held camerawork; some dialogue scenes become irritating due to their intrusive use of shakycam. This doesn’t distract during the action sequences, though, and Caruso delivers a lot of rousing set pieces. Those add real pep to the production and allow us to ignore some of the film’s flaws.
And make no mistake: Eagle Eye comes with its share of problems, some avoidable, some probably not. Nonetheless, it packs enough excitement and entertainment to usually overcome its problems. It turns into a consistently fun and enjoyable experience.