Vantage Point

Shooting the president has benver been so dull.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 20, 2008

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Prez dispenser: Richard T. Jones (left) and Dennis Quaid tend to a casualty in this casualty-laden disaster.

Temporal gimmicks aren't exactly an innovation in the world of motion pictures, but nobody told the makers of the crummy, incredibly annoying Vantage Point. Written by first-timer Barry Levy with all the hopped-up gusto of a teenage film student who just saw Rashomon for the first time and completely missed the point, this junky thriller purports to tell the tale of a presidential assassination attempt from several different points of view, a notion that makes sense only if you confuse point of view with location.

The audience's trouble alert sails into orange from the outset, with our first glimpse of William Hurt as the president of the United States. (America must be in even bigger trouble than we ever imagined.) A laughably unconvincing cable news station called GNN is cryptically reporting on some sort of historic summit in Salamanca, Spain. There are vague mentions of terrorism, some talk of recent attacks and a few hordes of angry protesters, but any actual specifics are left off-screen, perhaps out of fear of alienating audience members' political sensibilities, or more likely just due to the filmmakers' profound lack of imagination.

For fear of giving away too much, let's just say the Salamanca photo-op does not go well. A few high-powered rifle shots and some backpack bombs are a drag at any party, and after 20 minutes of chaos, Vantage Point freeze-frames on a cliffhanger--then we actually have to watch the events rewind themselves on-screen, only to start all over again, this time following a different paycheck-hungry B-list actor in a different section of this crowded city square.

Temporal gimmicks aren't exactly a new innovation in the world of motion pictures, but obviously nobody ever explained that to the makers of the crummy, crudely exploitative Vantage Point. Written by first-timer Barry Levy ...

Irritating, isn't it? That's sort of what sitting through the movie is like.

First we're in the GNN control booth with Sigourney Weaver's hard-nosed news director, where the actress appears so bored she can barely muster anything above a monotone. Then comes Dennis Quaid's Secret Service agent, a bit of a nervous wreck returning to active duty for the first time after taking a bullet in the chest to save the prez's life during the last assassination attempt. (GNN helpfully has the footage already cued up.) Quaid attempts to beat down his charisma and play it dour. He just looks constipated.

Elsewhere we've got Forest Whitaker's gentle-hearted American tourist wandering around, his mouth agape and waving a video camera. Prone to spilling generous amounts of back-story and surprisingly personal details about his troubled marriage to an overly friendly stranger (Three Kings' Sa�d Taghmaoui), Whitaker also seems to be wondering if this is the kind of thankless role one should really be playing after winning an Oscar. And hey, that young Arab fellow is typing pretty frantically on his PDA ...

Wait a minute! Freeze-frame! Rewind!

Whenever a movie deviates from standard storytelling, it helps if the filmmakers have a reason to do so. In the most famous recent cases like Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros or the films of Christopher Nolan, such time-warps hold the philosophical keys to the movie. If laid out in straight chronological order, the pictures would lose their meaning.

Vantage Point, by contrast, keeps resetting itself merely to jerk us around and pad the thing out to feature length. There's roughly 20 minutes of story here, and no matter how many times they stop and start over again from an even more preposterous angle, it's still going to play out like a lousy episode of 24.

Director Pete Travis is a TV vet, and the movie unsurprisingly exhibits a flat, small-screen sensibility. There's no grit in these locations nor any depth to the images. Even a late-game attempt to juice things up with a Bourne-knockoff car chase looks glossy and unconvincing. The sequence also begs the question as to why a cold-blooded terrorist who has just killed hundreds of people would suddenly decide to jeopardize both his mission and his life in order to avoid hitting a little girl with his car, but then I guess it's a fool who looks for logic in a film in which William Hurt plays the president.

Vantage Point

Director: Pete Travis
Starring: William Hurt, Dennis Quaid, Sigourney Weaver
Opens Fri., Feb. 22

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