Review: Vantage Point

Neal Moritz is a film producer specializing in high-octane cinema that bends logic, punishes the eyes, and deafens those who sit close to the screen. The calloused hand behind "The Fast and the Furious" franchise, "Stealth," "Torque," and "XXX" now endeavors to take his ADD to the political playing field, shepherding "Vantage Point;" (IMDb listing) a perfectly goofy thriller that take great pains to pace itself like a bat out of hell.

On the day of a crucial terrorism summit in Spain, the President of the United States (William Hurt) is being shuttled to a plaza, guarded by Secret Service agents Taylor (Matthew Fox) and jittery Barnes (Dennis Quaid). Arriving amidst a horde of protestors captured on a cable news network overseen by director Rex (Sigourney Weaver), the President is lead to a stage for an important speech opportunity. In the crowd are Howard (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist with an HD camcorder, Spanish cop Eduardo Noriega, and suspicious attendee Suarez (Said Taghmaoui). When a terrorist attack occurs, it's up to Barnes to piece together the different media and witness viewpoints to catch the bad guys and rescue the President.

If you've come to "Vantage Point" looking for a sensitive opinion on the devastation of global terrorism and potential media culpability, than perhaps another, more thoughtful film might better serve those needs. "Vantage" is a straightforward rocket ride; a thriller that contains about as much sociopolitical depth as a crate of Red Bull and a dog-eared copy of Newsweek. At its best, "Vantage" is non-stop entertainment, delivering plenty of bang for the buck. This kind of relentless pacing is always admirable, and director Pete Travis is aware that stopping for a lungful of air would then lead to such irritants as logic and comprehension, and those are two elements "Vantage" recoils from with great horror.

This tale is told from several viewpoints, traditionally (and perhaps incorrectly) described as "Rashomon" style, but let's not sully the golden name of Kurosawa when discussing this picture. The gimmick here is that "Vantage" rolls through the same 10-15 minutes of plot before "rewinding" and starting all over again with a different character, slowly lacing the perspectives until the final reel, where the film goes haywire with bullet sprays and chase sequences. It's not as tiring as it sounds; Travis does a commendable job keeping identical pieces of story fresh and usable, though the clunky script by Barry Levy tarnishes the excitement by forcing in unreal amounts of backstory for each role. Do we really care that Howard is having domestic troubles while he waits around for the President to show? It's not a piece of information that affects the finale of the movie, and the script is filled with similar silly stretches of characters explaining their every motive in the precious few minutes of film they have to work with.

I wouldn't describe "Vantage" as a horrible feature, but things sour considerably once film starts to answer its own questions. Travis can't help himself, and begins to treat the audience like complete idiots by instructing the antagonists to smirk Dr. Evil style to the camera and thickly underline the double-crosses as they play out. It's not long before the whole enterprise belly flops into absurdity (if it wasn't there already), topped off with vile, nauseating Bayesque car-chase camerawork and a distillation of good vs. evil that would not feel out of place in a "Popeye" cartoon. It's truly eye-rolling.

Certainly "Vantage Point" is juicy mainstream entertainment not concerned with political nuance, just armrest-gripping thrills. It's a marginally successful attempt to flare up the senses through shocking repetition, but this is Moritz after all, so if you must go, leave your brain at home and sneak in a cocktail to help wash down the nonsense.

Filmfodder Grade: C