The thriller "Eagle Eye" invites us to consider the catastrophe that might result if sinister, omnipotent, unchecked power ended up entirely in the hands of . . .
Or four screenwriters, rewriting each other. Here's what would happen: All reason and logic would sail out the window, so that a conspiracy that should have required one button and one bomb is inexplicably broadened to include several dozen uncooperative civilians who must be blackmailed into participating.
They include Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan, playing two apparently random people sucked into the mysterious scheme, led around the country by a mechanical voice speaking to them via cell phone.
They are compelled to hijack vehicles, rob armored cars and evade airport security on a pell-mell trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C., staying one step ahead of the federal agent (Billy Bob Thornton) who is trying to catch them by detecting some method to their crime-spree madness.
What does it all mean?
Where does it all lead?
"Eagle Eye" promises to blow your mind with a big reveal, but my mind was already blown trying to enumerate just how many movies it rips off along the way. "The Fugitive," "The Bourne Identity," "North By Northwest," "The Manchurian Candidate." And not just quality stuff. It also steals a scene from "College Road Trip" - Hollywood thinks there is nothing so funny as non-Asian stars climbing into a bus full of Japanese tourists.
The most obvious rip-off is "Live Free Or Die Hard," which did a much better job of managing a similar premise - powerful surveillance and command and control computers in the wrong hands.
Certainly the action was better. Director D.J. Caruso's idea of updating the car chase is to dissolve all geographical background, to twist the camera and blur the image so that the viewer has no idea what's happening. You can't even tell when a car rolls over.
He and star LaBeouf combined for some B-movie thrills in "Disturbia" (where the Hitchcock references seemed less painful) - but here the best they deliver are some unintentional laughs.
I'm referring to a scene in which Monaghan, operating a car during a high-speed chase, receives driving tips from LaBeouf. He's in the passenger seat, perhaps because his own license is suspended. *
Produced by Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci and Patrick Crowley, directed by D.J. Caruso, written by Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz, Dan McDermott and John Glenn, music by Brian Tyler, distributed by DreamWorks.