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This thriller is at a disadvantage 'Point'

The conspiracy plot of 'Vantage Point' feels like a blend of 'Die Hard' and 'Rashomon.'

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / February 22, 2008

Bystander: Forest Whitaker stars as Howard Lewis, an American tourist who witnesses a presidential assassination in 'Vantage Point.'

Courtesy of Daniel Daza/Columbia Pictures

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The action thriller "Vantage Point" has a terrific trailer but the movie itself turns out to be a feature-length trailer. It's all coming attractions for a film that never really happens.

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The story line is one of those high concepts that must have sounded bankable in the boardroom. The president of the United States (William Hurt) is assassinated moments after he speaks at an outdoor summit in Spain on global terrorism. Whodunit?

Eight different viewpoints to the crime are presented by eight witnesses, including an American TV news producer (Sigourney Weaver), an American tourist (Forest Whitaker), and a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid). Each mini-story pushes the action forward, then the scenario rewinds and we start over again with another version.

It's "Rashomon" for the ADD generation.

We're supposed to be solving the puzzle bit by bit, but director Pete Travis and screenwriter Barry Levy don't offer up enough solid clues. Instead of using my wits to piece things together, I was clutching my ears instead. The movie is almost nonstop car screeches and explosions and gunfire and shouting. The Dolby sound system in my theater had a better time than I did.

I realize this is the kind of movie where performance matters less than pizzazz. Still, it takes some doing to make the likes of Weaver, Quaid, Hurt, and Whitaker look bad. Were they perhaps drawn to the material because they thought it would be a Costa-Gavras-style political thriller? But just because a movie uses global terrorism as its centerpiece is no reason to believe it's got much on its mind. The depiction of terrorism in the movies can be – and often is – just as exploitative as the depiction of, say, nudity. It's a way to supercharge a worn-out scenario under the guise of being "topical."

I have not seen "Omagh," Travis's highly praised first film about a 1998 bombing Northern Ireland, so it may be a stretch to call him, on the basis of "Vantage Point," an exploitative filmmaker. It's possible that the project started out with higher ambitions than blasts and bullets. But even the straight action sequences are botches. The last 20 minutes feature one long car chase, and it's so improbably staged that we might as well be watching a "Die Hard" knockoff.

This is the kind of movie where a car does a triple lutz, gets mashed between two pillars, and the passengers emerge bloodied but unbowed. How can we take this doomsday scenario seriously when we keep waiting for Bruce Willis to rise from the ashes? Grade: C–

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some disturbing images, and brief strong language.

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