Friday, February 22, 2008

The president has been shot. Or has he?

It all depends on whom you ask.

The new thriller “Vantage Point” packs a doozy of a setup — an assassination attempt as seen through the eyes of eight persons. Too bad the film never delivers on its early promise.

President Ashton (William Hurt) is shot while speaking at an anti-terror ceremony in Spain.

The Secret Service agents out to protect him, including Kent Taylor (“Lost’s” Matthew Fox) and Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), scramble to get the shooter. A tourist (Forest Whitaker) captures some of the action on his camcorder. A local cop (Eduardo Noriega) tries to protect himself in the melee following the assault, all the while wondering if his girlfriend was somehow involved. And the field producer for a major cable network (Sigourney Weaver) tries to make sense of the attack while directing her camera crews not to miss a second of the mayhem.

The story starts about half an hour before the assassination attempt and stops just after the bullets fly. Then, someone hits the rewind button and the tale begins anew, but this time told through the eyes of another witness.

Each retelling moves the story ahead a few beats, revealing more and more of just what happened, but by the time the final truths emerge, will anyone care?

The film’s B-movie dialogue is the first sign the film won’t carry through on its brilliant gimmick, but other red flags flutter early on.

A news correspondent (Zoe Saldana) reports that some in the crowd are shouting anti-U.S. slogans, but Miss Weaver’s character berates her for editorializing on the fly.

Well, the reporter was merely reporting on the mood at the summit, and since when does a news network silence anti-American sentiment?

The only other moment that veers close to politics is when President Ashton decries his country’s penchant for counterpunching after terrorists attacks, although he fails to offer the audience his Plan B.

Mr. Quaid’s character is the closest thing we have to Jack Bauer, but instead of torturing terrorists he tortures himself for… well, we’re not sure.

Mr. Quaid, who survived global warming in 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow,” is even tougher here. His rugged performance is admirable at first, but by the film’s conclusion, his heroism devolves into parody.

Mr. Fox’s turn here doesn’t even begin with promise, and Miss Weaver’s strong impression as the grizzled news veteran doesn’t count for much since she’s gone before you know it.

The final reel is a mashup of car crashes, foot chases and character revelations that make not a whit of sense. All the tension built so meticulously in the early sequences drains from the screen.

Ultimately, “Vantage Point” sees its audience as an undemanding lot who won’t mind trading substantive storytelling for pyrotechnics.


TITLE: “Vantage Point”

RATING: PG-13 (Sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language)

CREDITS: Directed by Pete Travis. Written by Barry Levy.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes



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