There's a difference between “mindlessly entertaining” and “entertainingly mindless.” The first applies to movies that don't require thought but send you away satisfied. The second applies to movies that deliver thrills but never let you forget they don't make a doggone bit of sense. “Eagle Eye” is in group two.
It's been 40 years since “2001: A Space Odyssey” blew our minds with a red-eyed, calm-voiced supercomputer that took human life to protect what it felt were higher objectives. So I suppose we're ready for another red-eyed, calm-voiced supercomputer that takes human life to protect higher objectives, this time with a female voice. (Big Sister is watching you.)
The difference between the machines is that Aria, the villainess from “Eagle Eye,” is not an internal system like the HAL of “2001”: She's linked to every electronic and electrical device in the United States and can activate and control all of them in a microsecond.
Aria forces copy store attendant Jerry Shaw and single mom Rachel Holloman to participate in an assassination attempt to wipe out most of the top 12 Americans in the chain of federal command. They have disregarded her advice and wrongly bombed an Arab village, triggering terrorist reprisals that now threaten every American, so these misguided leaders must be terminated for the general good.
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Director D.J. Caruso adapted an idea by executive producer Steven Spielberg with at least four other writers. Caruso realizes the premise is silly, so he keeps Jerry (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) literally fleeing for almost two hours. They're at the center of shootouts and crashes and destroyed vehicles pinwheeling around them, and they get just enough dialogue to find love.
This might be considered the third of Spielberg's paranoiac/creepy techno-visions after “A.I.” and “Minority Report,” both of which he directed. (He reportedly considered directing this, too.) But those were presented as futuristic fantasies, and “Eagle Eye” wants you to think this can happen now – which is absurd.
No government surveillance team can create a computer that infallibly predicts random events: A stranger's cell phone rings for Jerry as soon as he sits down next to the man on the subway, even though Jerry has disobeyed instructions and jumped onto the wrong train. The rationale for the mayhem is insanely elaborate: Instead of making Jerry comply by framing him for a crime and setting him on the run, Aria frames him – in a completely unbelievable way – allows the FBI to arrest him, then busts him out of FBI headquarters by diverting a train through the room where he's using the telephone. (I am not making this up.)
Monaghan gives a solid performance, and Billy Bob Thornton has sarcastically funny bits as an FBI agent. Former Charlottean Madison Mason gets one speech as the president, and I swear I saw Cullowhee's Nick Searcy in an unbilled cameo.
The lightweight LaBeouf has an unfortunate line early on at a poker table – “Are you gonna be boys or men?” – and the actor seems stuck between those two worlds. His pimp mustache and beard stubble make him look like a high school senior trying to impress a hot college girl.