The last time D.J. Caruso directed Shia LaBeouf, the movie was called "Disturbia," and the most disturbing thing about it was the obviousness with which everyone involved was ripping off Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window." How obvious? The owners of the short story on which "Window" was based are currently suing, citing "Disturbia" as an unauthorized remake.
"Eagle Eye," likewise, is a movie only a copyright lawyer could love. It strip-mines at least three Hitchcock classics - "North by Northwest," "The Wrong Man," and "The Man Who Knew Too Much" - then commits unlawful assault on Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" just for the heck of it. Serene in the knowledge that few moviegoers under the age of 30 have heard of any of these movies let alone seen them, "Eagle Eye" is Hitch for a modern age bloated by steroids, addled by action, and incapable of long-term attention.
Is it any fun? For an act of pillage, it's pretty entertaining. Bring earplugs and Dramamine, though, and keep "Vertigo" cued up on the DVD player for when you get home.
LaBeouf plays the wrong man in question, a mopey Chicago copy clerk named Jerry Shaw whose life goes haywire after his identical twin, Ethan, dies. Ethan was the good brother, and now his work in top-secret US Air Force skullduggery is landing upon the head of prodigal slacker Jerry. The phone rings and a pleasant woman's voice informs Jerry that the FBI is about to crash through his door and he'd better get moving.
The same woman calls single mother Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) and orders her to go to the corner and hop in a waiting
The subject is info-age paranoia - the lingering fear that our every move is being watched and stored by a post-Internet, post-Patriot Act somebody or other. Whoever the voice is or represents, she can control traffic lights, ATM machines, LED signs, surveillance cameras, and the nation's entire telephone grid and air traffic control system. She barks out driving directions like a GPS dominatrix. If you've spent any time navigating a corporation's recorded answering menu, you know this voice and she's your worst nightmare.
You've probably figured out who she is, but Jerry and Rachel are too busy dashing around like lab rats to wonder. There's a screeching multi-car pile-up that Caruso films with overaggressive close-ups - you can't tell who's crashing into whom - and, toward the end, a scene that one-ups the biplane-in-a-cornfield bit in "North by Northwest." Now it's a fighter pilot roaring through a highway tunnel. The studios probably think this is progress.
Far in the distance, straining to keep up, are fine actors like Thornton, Rosario Dawson (as a crisp Air Force investigator), Anthony Mackie (as a Pentagon insider), and Michael Chiklis of TV's "The Shield" (as a mournful secretary of defense). He has reason to look constipated, given the film's mounting improbabilities. Just one, for example: There are unexplained crashes and detonations all over Washington, and the State of the Union Address goes on as planned? What's the threat level - taupe?
LaBeouf tackles his first grown-up leading man role, and he's . . . adequate. Anyway, he's not the movie's star - the central gimmick and the action sequences are - so any young actor could have played the part. LaBeouf's lack of heft, unfortunately, is underscored by the casting of the decade-older Monaghan opposite him and by the movie's nervousness over whether there should be a romance or not. There's one kiss, but it's a quick peck on the cheek. I guess she's sending him off to school.
The germ of "Eagle Eye" apparently originated years ago with executive producer Steven Spielberg, but Caruso and producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (they wrote "Transformers" after coming off TV's "Alias") are the governing sensibilities. Their approach could be called Twist and Smash: The script's busy enough to keep you guessing and the cracks are papered over with speed and noise.
The borrowings from older, better movies are used the way you'd retrofit a classic engine into an assembly-line chassis. No one in the audience needs to know that's the Albert Hall climax from "The Man Who Knew Too Much" rumbling under the final scenes set in the US Capitol. But no one who's seen "The Man Who Knew Too Much" will think "Eagle Eye" does it remotely as well.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.