Mark Reviews Movies

VANTAGE POINT

1 Ĺ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Pete Travis

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, William Hurt, Edgar Ramirez, Ayelet Zurer, SaÔd Taghmaoui, Bruce McGill, Sigourney Weaver

MPAA Rating:  (for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images and brief strong language)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 2/22/08


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Review by Mark Dujsik

The premise behind Vantage Point is intriguing: One story told from several perspectives, each one giving a new insight to unravel what has happened. All right, so it's Rashomon again, but this time it involves the assassination and later kidnapping of the President of the United States. Yes, you read that correctly, and while that point will be cleared up in the viewing, the movie only brings up more head-scratching problems. The biggest one: It cheats. It cheats with its concept of unique perspectives. It cheats with the way information is revealed. Basically, it cheats with its narrative gimmick, the only thing that actually separates this material from any of the countless other similar fare from which it so liberally borrows.

Vantage Point is frustrating because the idea behind it is strong, considering our society's media obsession and the way the truth gets lost somewhere between what happened and what's printed on the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen. Don't get me started on that relatively ignored theme, which is brought up at the start and forgotten until the last moment. Instead, Barry L. Levy's script is redundant, taking a worthwhile concept and reducing it to a series of cliffhangers.

The plot (and it is all plot) takes place in Salamanca, Spain, where a historic agreement between Western and Arab nations is about to take place. It is part of President Ashton's (William Hurt) counter-terrorism strategy, and while there are protestors around the Plaza Mayor where the summit is about to begin, the producer of GNN's coverage (Sigourney Weaver) doesn't want to acknowledge them (making GNN the fictional counterpart of Fox Newsóread the administration's press release; ignore what's behind it or what happens as a result). As the President takes the podium a little after noon, two shots ring out. He's hit.

Veteran Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) tackles Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), who claims to be a police officer, as he rushes the stage, while Agent Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) attends to the wounded president. A man in the crowd named Howard (Forest Whitaker) is recording everything on his camcorder. An explosion sounds somewhere in the distance, and soon, there's another explosion within the Plaza that causes even more chaos than before.

Our first perspective is the television news truck, with live feeds from every imaginable angle, and, in spite of the potential immediacy of the setup, it's at this first glimpse that we realize first-time director Pete Travis has difficulty arousing tension and suspense. Part of that is also Levy's script, which focuses this section on the bickering between the producer and an on-site reporter (Zoe Saldana) and crams in some backstory on Barnes for good measure. After a literal rewind (Get used to it, as it's the first of many), Barnes is the second perspective.

He's still ailing from bad memories of taking a few bullets for Ashton a year ago. There are flashbacks to footage we just saw in the news truck, the other agents are skeptical of his abilities, he seemingly overreacts to every slightest, possible threat, etc. Barnes grabs Howard's camera, says, "Oh my God," and we don't see what he sees. Then he runs into the truck, sees something on one of the monitors, says, "Oh my God," and we don't see what he sees. Levy's script is full of cheats like this, the second one being most unforgivable because it's the key to solving the big twist (which, if one pays attention to which character mysteriously disappears for a long time, isn't much of one).

In spite of the rewinds and multiple viewpoints, Levy's plot is basically straightforward. This means that, instead of learning new information about an event that has already happened, Levy stops short of revealing the next step. The result is a series of annoying cliffhangers. What was on the camcorder? Stay tuned; we'll see it when Howard's view takes over. Will Howard save the little girl from being hit by an oncoming ambulance? Stay tuned. What happens when the assassin enters the President's hotel room? You get the drift.

The script spends so much time reiterating information we already know (How many times do we have to hear the phrase, "There's a bomb under the podium," before it gets tedious? (Answer: two)), that when it actually comes to revealing what the hell is going on, Levy throws away his gimmick and just tells the extended conclusion of the story straight, with all the characters jumbled together. That the climax becomes a series of foot and car chases is especially disappointing. It's so obnoxiously shot, we're only left asking, Which is most durable: Howard's camera, Enrique (who's hit by two cars and falls from a balcony without injury) Barnes' car (which magically repairs itself in a few shots), or Barnes himself (who goes through more than is worth recounting)?

Trying, monotonous, and not anywhere near as relevant or clever as it imagines itself to be, Vantage Point proves once again that while it's easy to rely on a gimmick, it's usually not the best idea to trust it. This is especially true if one isn't going to be honest to the gimmick in the first place.

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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