Friday, March 6, 2009

Film Review--Echelon Conspiracy

Echelon Conspiracy
directed by Greg Marcks
written by Kevin Elders, Michael Nitsberg
starring Shane West, Edward Burns, Ving Rhames, Sergey Gubanov, Martin Sheen, Tamara Feldman, Jonathan Pryce

An American computer tech expert named Max Peterson (West) working in Thailand receives a GPS cell phone and is provided with instructions regarding gambling possibilities. He follows the advice at a Casino in Prague and quickly garners the attention of security captain John Reed (Burns) who has him trailed. FBI agent Dave Grant (Rhames) becomes involved and it becomes quickly apparent that something mightily untoward is going on.

The film has many plot holes that would take hours of deep hemorrhaging to fill; certain aspects of the film simply do not add up and by the end the story is so convoluted and confusing that one wonders if it is on purpose just to piss off audiences who might think they can actually solve the thing.

When the film opens Peterson receives the package and it begins to give him specific instructions about which table to play, where to sit, and which slots to hit. It’s a thrilling aspect of the film and it causes the viewer to wonder how far they are going to take it. Unfortunately, it becomes more of a chase film where the object is to track down whomever or whatever is behind the messages.

The sinister machinations of the NSA are prevalently displayed in this film. Boss Raymund Burke (Sheen) desperately wants an upgrade for the Echelon program–the grand surveillance software that in the new form will have access to every bit of electronic data ever transferred through computers, cell phones, and the like. It sounds much as the NSA actually is so it’s difficult to ascertain just why this poses a particularly new and dangerous threat to the safety and freedoms of world citizens.

It becomes clear that the source of the messages has also targeted others who have mysteriously been murdered upon their reception. Indeed, once Peterson begins to work with the FBI he is sent a message telling him he will be killed if he shuts the phone off.

The film follows a generic, predictable pattern that offers no particularly intriguing dynamics. There are the cursory fight sequences, car chases, and love scenes which have all been treated with more elegance and style in superior films dealing with similar subject matter. Still, there is a charge to the main idea of the film however banal it proves itself to be in the end. The film resorts to being a Big Brother type thriller without the thrills or the real, intense threat that is supposed to be behind the messages and the fundamental thrust of the film.

It’s the sheer lack of originality that drags this film down in the end. Yet, the plot does resonate and remains interesting enough for all of those who sense a frightening agenda on the part of those who claim to have our best interest at heart. But it’s just not quite enough to supercede the methods employed in telling this story. Ultimately there is nothing worth getting particularly excited over here despite the hysteria on display.

The necessary love interest comes in the form of Kamila (Feldman), an agent who predictably falls in love with Peterson, in an attempt to crank up the heat. Unfortunately, there is zero chemistry between these two and it’s difficult to imagine them together. Again, it’s obligatory in these films to inject a love sequence however much it manages to stall the momentum that has precariously been built up.

Shane West has a definite Jim Carrey quality working for him and one expects him to break out in some rubber faced nuttiness at every turn. Subsequently, it’s impossible to take him seriously in this film. Jim Carrey knows how to leave the gimmicks behind when he tackles a “serious” role. West is merely playing the straight moments in Carrey comedies before his lauded transformations into peculiar nit-wits.

Overall, this film should be more terrifying in the end. It possesses all of the elements that go into making a quality conspiracy thriller but it does nothing novel with them. It’s just a rote, cookie cutter film with a decent premise that is never properly explored. Nevertheless, there are moments where it livens up a bit and the film almost seems worth paying attention to. The message here is well known and subsequently there is no seriously discomforting reveal in this film. It’s common knowledge to anyone who is paying attention that this type of situation is certainly in the minds of certain types who would create just such a scenario if the technology could be developed that would allow for it.

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