CCNMA: This is The Voice — Eagle Eye

Are your weekend entertainment plans certified? CCNMA is a weekly feature that explores the movie industry’s love-hate relationship with computing technology. This week’s movie is  ONE FROM THE VAULT .

My typical response to answering the phone and hearing a female voice give a series of calm, clearly articulated instructions is, “Yes, dear, I’ll take care of that.” See, Jerry Shaw? That’s how it’s done. Jerry is the regular schmuck who has a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day in the 2008 cyberthriller Eagle Eye after he accepts a call from an unknown number and starts receiving mysterious, urgent and time-sensitive instructions from a woman who sounds even more no-nonsense than the Pine-Sol Lady.

Yes, part of Jerry’s problem is that it’s not his wife or girlfriend who is calling, but still — since he does eventually end up doing what he’s asked, it’s hard to shake the impression that Jerry could have saved himself a 10-gallon bucket of bumps and bruises and clung to at least 15 percent more of his sanity by simply agreeing to play ball. Give the lady what she wants, Jer-Bear. Instead, our hero insists on being the captain of his soul until he’s been hounded and hunted for days, battered half to death, and become a fugitive from the FBI, the United States Air Force and the Chicago Police Department.

This is not the movie to see if you’re one of those people who is deeply invested in the culture of personal electronics in general, and cell phones in particular. There’s a witheringly cautionary tale here about the perils of a) owning a cell phone, and b) taking it with you wherever you go. I get it: Having the phone at your fingertips keeps you connected to the world at large and also circumvents the leading cause of PED-induced trauma, which is, “Honey/bro/hey everybody, did you see where I put my phone down?” Phones, generally speaking, are easier to misplace than car keys, wallets, gym socks and the lost continent of Atlantis.

As the movie energetically points out, however, your phone is also a digital stooge, capable of squealing your whereabouts to any number of shadowy authorities, even when you are not actually using it to talk, text, or play Angry Birds. It doesn’t even have to be your own phone — once you pick it up, Somebody Knows Where You Are.

Eagle Eye doesn’t precisely start off in this vein, instead raising its curtain on a pastoral dusty hillside in Faroff-istan, where dudes with beards and turbans are gathering at a small village. One of the dudes, we learn, might be a notoriously uncatchable terrorist. Very soon, soldiers, strategic air command and the U.S. Secretary of Defense are debating whether to order a drone to strike the village. After receiving a last-second report that clears the suspect, Secretary Callister advises against an attack — but President Unseen ByViewers, conferenced in from Air Force One, isn’t buying it and sends in the drones.

More about all of that later: Cue the entrance of poor Jerry Shaw, a shmoe in an apron at Copy Cabana (see what they did there?) who is crushed when informed that his all-world, golden boy identical twin brother, Ethan, has been killed in the line of duty. Next up is the funeral, followed by alone time in the brothers’ childhood bedroom, follow by Jerry’s estranged and disapproving dad attempting to converse with his prodigal son. Jerry signals that he doesn’t want to talk by blustering, “You want to have this conversation now?! You want to do this today? Today you want to have this now!?!”

Jerry would rather use today and now to have and do other things, such as deposit a check at an ATM, whereupon he is startled to be practically assaulted by a stack of thousand-dollar bills. Things get even weirder back at his tiny apartment, where delivery guys have let themselves in and left behind crate-loads of Secret Agent Man paraphernalia: guns, ammo, bomb-making supplies, multiple passports. This is where the Case of the Mysterious Female Voice kicks in, as Jerry answers his suddenly ringing phone, ignores the unidentified caller’s instructions to flee, and is taken into custody by disapproving federal agents.

The next time The Voice calls back, Jerry again tries to march to beat of his own drum. In addition to being persistent, however, the person or persons on the other end of the line can seemingly see him wherever he goes, and appear to have unlimited resources at their disposal. One way or another, Jerry WILL be brought to heel. And that’s really all I can tell you without ruining the movie, by which I mean that I’m about to ruin the movie, so stop reading if you care. I’m pretty sure you don’t care. It’s not a very good movie.

Seriously, though:  SPOILERS AHEAD 

Are you ready for this? Jerry’s all-hours caller is a computer. Not just any computer, of course: Jerry has been singled out by ARIIA (Autonomous Reconaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst), a top secret supercomputer buried 36 levels beneath the Pentagon. ARIIA, in the established manner of movie national defense supercomputers, has gone off the reservation, convinced of the need to remove the POTUS from office ever since that little incident in Faroff-istan at the beginning of the movie. Turns out it was ARIIA who red-flagged the drone strike at the last second, and she’s not happy about all of the unnecessary deaths that were caused by the presidential override.

ARIIA’s plan is to terminate the current administration with extreme prejudice and install good ol’ Sec-Def Callister (who actually listened to her advice) as the new Chief Executive. That means bumping off the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, President pro tempore of the Senate, Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury. Good thing the State of the Union address is coming up in a few days.

So, yeah, a computer with hurt feelings that is apparently connected to every digital device in the country takes enormously complicated measures to move multiple humans around like chess pieces for days, in order to assassinate the entire presidential line of succession (down to No. 6) in one of the most public settings imaginable. Dozens of people are involved, but bewildered single mother Rachel, thrust together with Jerry for long stretches, is our fiendish villain’s other main proxy.

Or at least her other main human proxy. ARIIA the magical talking supercomputer manipulates phones, traffic signals, demolition cranes, power transformers, cargo manifests, airport security scanners, planes, trains, automobiles, the video demo room at Circuit City (product placement!) and just about every digital signboard in America. If the Loch Ness Monster had a manual override system, then I’m sure it would have been involved as well.

In the real world, IBM’s Watson can beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy! In Eagle Eye, ARIIA can beat the entire United States at regime change. I’ve seen my share of hysterical balderdash in movies about nefarious computers, but this one is a special kind of ridiculous. Although just to be on the safe side, the next time I get a call from an unidentified number, I’m going to throw my phone in one direction and run like heck in the other.

PROGRAMMING NOTES

DON’T BE SHIA: Jerry is played by Shia LaBeouf, one of the least charismatic matinee idols ever to be crammed down America’s throat. If you haven’t already learned it from the Transformers movies and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, then Eagle Eye should finally make if official: Any situation in which only Shia LaBeouf can save the world is already a lost cause.

GLASS HALF-FULL: We find out about ARIIA’s plans for Callister because she actually tells the mild-mannered public servant what’s next after locking him up in a glass-windowed vault for safekeeping. The stalwart secretary appears bummed to be on lockdown while an insane supercomputer orchestrates a palace coup in his name, but you can also sorta see it in his eyes after he gets the news: This is weird, but I may as well make the best of it. Maybe I can get some new carpet in the Oval Office. And it’s about time that we had Twinkies in the White House break room.

I CAN FEEL MY TEMPERATURE RISING: How do you beat an omnipotent insane supercomputer in a fight? You know how your computer has a fan? An Army major named “Bowman” (first name David, no doubt) and a USAF special agent named Soledad get the job done by essentially by wrecking ARIIA’s cooling system. That’s not very cinematic, though, so Special Agent Soledad also punches ARIIA in the eye — no kidding — to finish her off. John Wayne himself couldn’t have handled it any better.

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Chip Hartweir

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CHIP HARTWEIR is a Certified Cinemaniac who likes movies, computers and especially movies about computers. He has won numerous awards for writing about film and has a keyboard with arm's reach most hours of the day. E-mail him at chiphartweir (at) gmail (dot) com.

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