Vantage Point

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Straight out of the slice-and-dice school of filmmaking, "Vantage Point" fractures chronology and perspective in a vain attempt to disguise its flimsiness.

Director Pete Travis has assembled an international cast to exploit the vaguest of notions about terrorism in Barry L. Levy's script. Tracing a half-hour period of a calamitous day from multiple points of view, the screenplay tosses in an of-the-moment camcorder angle. But there's no rhyme, reason or intrigue in this story of a presidential assassination, and unintentional laughs outnumber the moments of suspense. Going out to 3,000-plus screens, the film is poised for a muscular performance at the boxoffice, but for moviegoers seeking a compelling, solid action-thriller, the best vantage point would be outside the theater.

The action -- the film is all incident and mechanics, with no context, reflection or resonance -- unfolds, over and over, in Salamanca, Spain. World leaders have gathered for a groundbreaking World Summit Against Terrorism, and the president of the United States (William Hurt) is about to speak at a midday rally in the city's Plaza Mejor. Production designer Brigitte Broch's replica of the square, constructed in Mexico, is an impressive feat. DP Amir Mokri's overhead of the throng, bright with waving flags and summer clothes, has an abstract sheen, and the opening scenes suggest an undertow of foreboding that only unravels as the story proceeds.

In a mobile studio near the plaza, a TV news producer, Rex (Sigourney Weaver, in a brief, by-the-numbers turn), orchestrates her channel's coverage of the event. She reins in an opinionated reporter (Zoe Saldana) and a roving cameraman from "sideshow" complexities like the anti-U.S. protesters on the periphery. Rex is surprised to see Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) among the Secret Service agents accompanying POTUS to the rostrum. This is his first time back in the field since he took a bullet for the commander in chief a year earlier. Bullets seem to follow Barnes; President Ashton is shot moments after beginning his remarks. Two explosions go off, followed by pandemonium, a freeze frame and a flash-backward through the preceding 19 minutes of the film.

The story starts again at noon, this time from Barnes' POV. He's understandably on edge, and with the exception of supportive Agent Taylor (Matthew Fox), most of his colleagues question his job-readiness. As he anxiously scans the crowd, an American tourist with a video camera (Forest Whitaker) catches his attention, as does a fluttering curtain in an upstairs window overlooking the square. In the chaos after the shooting, a long-haired plainclothes Spanish cop, Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), draws his suspicion.

The action stops again and rewinds, as it will do several times more, to take viewers through the events immediately surrounding the attacks. Tedium, not depth, accumulates. Intended big reveals are ho-hum, and each retelling merely adds a piece or two of information, along with increasingly ludicrous action. On a foot chase through the city, Enrique bounces off speeding cars with superhuman resilience. Ayelet Zurer, Said Taghmaoui and Edgar Ramirez are among the murkily crisscrossing plotters, and a little girl and her ice cream cone show up in a bid for emotional connection.

Roving cameras, quick cuts and propulsive music keep things moving, but they can't make them matter. Playing barely conceptualized stock characters, the actors provide rudimentary performances. Bruce McGill and James LeGros are particularly stilted in small parts as advisers to the president. In his second role this year, after "The Air I Breathe," in a Mexico City-shot ensemble piece that ill serves his talents, Whitaker errs on the side of emoting.

In the central role, one probably meant to evoke the kind of conflicted heroism of Clint Eastwood's character in "In the Line of Fire," Quaid comes closest to suggesting a human being. With his clenched body language, he clearly is trying to get under Barnes' skin. But unlike Eastwood, Quaid is given nothing to work with in this hamfisted scenario.

VANTAGE POINT
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Columbia Pictures presents in association with Relativity Media an Original Film production
Credits:
Director: Pete Travis
Screenwriter: Barry L. Levy
Producer: Neal H. Moritz
Executive producers: Callum Greene, Tania Landau, Lynwood Spinks
Director of photography: Amir Mokri
Production designer: Brigitte Broch
Music: Atli Orvarsson
Co-producer: Ricardo Del Rio
Costume designer: Luca Mosca
Editor: Stuart Baird
Cast:
Thomas Barnes: Dennis Quaid
Kent Taylor: Matthew Fox
Howard Lewis: Forest Whitaker
Phil McCullough: Bruce McGill
Javier: Edgar Ramirez
Suarez: Said Taghmaoui
Veronica: Ayelet Zurer
Angie: Zoe Saldana
Rex Brooks: Sigourney Weaver
President Ashton: William Hurt
Enrique: Eduardo Noriega
Ted Heinkin: James LeGros
Holden: Richard T. Jones
Running time -- 89 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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