Someone’s probably watching you right now. In this day and age, we all know that. Thanks to cameras the size of gnats and the general paranoia of the 21st century, if you live in a city that has the internet capability for you to read this, you might be on candid camera. So a lot of the things that are meant to shock and surprise in this movie really… don’t. Maybe that’s my personal paranoia, but it no longer shocks me to contemplate being tracked down on a busy street while driving because the traffic cameras have facial recognition software.
Still, all these things piling on top of each other in the film do get pretty overwhelming. The average person will be watched while pumping gas or using an ATM, but they’re not going to be electronically stalked. Some internet-savvy friends once explained to me the concept of “security through obscurity.” If you set up a web page that’s isolated, not linked to from any other page, the odds of anyone stumbling across it in all those billions of other web pages are pretty slim. Life is like that these days. If you’re not frequenting known terrorist hangouts or discussing plots to kill the president and his dog on your cell phone, no one’s paying that much attention to you.
Our heroes only wish that was true for them. Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf, Mutt from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull) is a very ordinary guy. He has constant five o’clock shadow, lives in a tiny walk-up apartment, and can’t quite manage to pay the rent on what he earns working at Copy Cabana and beating his friends at poker. His day gets worse when his mother calls: his twin brother, an Air Force officer with a bright future ahead of him, has just been killed in a car accident. Then his day gets even worse, when he returns from the funeral to find his tiny apartment jammed with boxes, containers marked “poison”, and bags and bags of amonium nitrate fertilizer. Since he’s apparently a complete idiot, he proceeds to open the boxes and get his fingerprints all over everything inside them, which include guns and ammunition and everything else a well-stocked terrorist needs. That’s when a female voice on his cell tells him to run, because the FBI is coming.
Meanwhile, Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan from Gone Baby Gone — we won’t mention that other debacle she was involved in, poor girl), single mother of a small, freckle-faced boy, is sending said small boy off on a trip to Washington, D.C., where his school band is going to play at the Kennedy Center. Then she gets a call from the same mysterious woman telling her that the adorable freckled child’s train will be derailed if she doesn’t do exactly as the voice says. It’s one of those voices that are determinedly upbeat and precise, maybe like phone operators used to sound, though I don’t really remember what it’s like to talk to a person anymore when looking for numbers and such.
|The obligatory chase scene with the dome of the White House in the background.|
The Voice on the Phone (VotP) brings her and Jerry together in a riotous car chase. That’s where the product placement begins — the VotP has provided a Porsche SUV for them, while FBI agent Tom Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) has to chase them in something much less expensive. Later our fugitives get a ChoiceOne credit card, visit Circuit City, receive Visa gift cards, and talk on Sprint phones. (I think — I’m not very good at identifying those brands.) It’s like those phone commercials where they talk about the product placement movies of the year. Those might be Sprint, too, but I don’t know anymore.
After a lot of lead-in and dozens of the most wildly improbably computer-controlled coincidences you’re ever likely to see, the VotP is revealed… and it was kind of a let down somehow. I mean, I’d already guessed the basics of what was going on, so I wasn’t expecting a surprise, but it still just made me sigh a little, and I’m not even sure why. There are good moments — Michelle Monaghan even gets to whack Billy Bob in the face with one of those small metallic suitcases. (Billy Bob scares me, I have to admit.) Except for a few moments of stupidity here and there to help move the plot along, the two main characters react pretty believeably to all the chaos. Everything seemed good, but it just didn’t work out in the end… too much glitz and not enough substance, maybe, but I’m not sure it’s really as simple as that.
But if all you’re looking for is a good action flick with half a brain, this will do it. I’ll go with three idols, assuming you can tolerate Billy Bob. The big screen is almost a requirement to enjoy it properly, I think, though these days lots of people seem to have giant television sets, so that doesn’t necessarily mean seeing it in the theatre anymore. And it does also help support my theory that cell phones are inherently evil, so I have to like it for that, at least.