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THE ECHELON CONSPIRACY
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Shane West, Ed Burns, Ving Rhames, Jonathan Pryce, Sergey Gubanov, Tamara Feldman, Martin Sheen
Director: Greg Marcks
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: July 21, 2009

ďEchelon is a threat to freedom.Ē

Film **

For some reason, thrillers involving technology as the villain and myself canít seem to find any common ground. First came the lackluster Eagle Eye, which I still maintain has the most ludicrous plot of any movie in recent memory. Now comes the similarly plotted Echelon Conspiracy, which had me fully engaged before smacking me in the face with a conclusion that made me go, ďhuh?Ē

Though it pains me to reduce a movie review to a simple comparison to another movie, but in this case itís just about unavoidable. If you recall, Eagle Eye involved Shia LaBeouf as an everyman being forced to follow a set of rules from a female voice over a cell phone, or face certain death. By the end of that movie, a plot too convoluted for words unfolds that would even have The Joker going, ďYouíve gotta be kidding me.Ē

In Echelon Conspiracy, we are introduced to another young unsuspecting everyman, Max Peterson (Shane West), a tech expert on a business trip in Bangkok. At his hotel, he receives a mysterious package in the form of a cell phone, and an awesome looking one at that. Max starts receiving text messages from an unknown sender, appearing in the form of instructions, and by the end of the night Max is in the casinoís hotel and winning a huge fortune.

His winnings attract the attention of casino boss/former agent John Reed (Ed Burns), not to mention government agent Dave Grant (Ving Rhames). Despite the fact that the cell phone has brought no harm towards Max, it is possible that something sinister is lurking beneath the surface. It is revealed to Max that a similar device came into the possession of two other unsuspecting folks, both of whom ended up dead after following its instructions. So Max agrees to cooperate and help Grant and Reed get to the bottom of the conspiracy.

So in the end, all I could gather was that this movie was made to attract the few amounts of people who manage to miss out on Eagle Eye, despite that filmís box office success. I will give Echelon Conspiracy credit for not going into the other movieís preferred mode of full-ultra-absurdity, and also for setting up the story in a rather intriguing way. During the movieís early scenes, as Max was enjoying his night of luck at the casino, I seriously felt that the twist of the story was the cell phone was a good luck charm and not capable of evil at all.

Not the case, as technology is revealed to be the villain once again. And although the way the heroes fight against the technological element is a bit more believable, the movie somehow becomes less engaging in its third act. We also get two action scenes; a car chase and a shootout, that both feel random, not to mention over and done with. Thatís unfortunate because the one thing Eagle Eye had going for it were its many action set pieces.

The cast does what it can with the material. Shane West is thoroughly likable in the heroic lead, and Ving Rhames is well cast as a tough government agent. Martin Sheen, however, must have been in need of some serious dough because he hasnít phoned in a performance with this much effort since Spawn.

The one person I was looking forward to seeing is Ed Burns, whoís always been a favorite of mine whether in front of or behind the camera, though I keep wishing heíd stop popping up in lame romantic comedies like 27 Dresses. Unfortunately, heís saddled with a role that doesnít give him much to do, in spite of being on screen for a good chunk of the film. Heís brings some wit to the part, but in the end heís an actor whoís so much better than this.

To sum it up, it goes like this. Echelon Conspiracy and Eagle Eye are pretty much the same movie, except that they both succeed briefly in different areas and fail for entirely different reasons. Though we live in a technologically advanced society, I think itís time to put the technology-is-the-villain thriller subgenre to rest.

Video ***1/2

Though I never really heard of this movie until I got the Blu-ray sent to me, I must say I was impressed by the video presentation of this Paramount release. The anamorphic picture is clear, at times brimming with fantastic detail, and booming with amazing colors. Some night time scenes donít fare as well, but thatís the only flaw to mention in an otherwise strong and well executed HD presentation.

Audio ***1/2

Any movie involving technology is bound to receive an effective piece of sound, and the DolbyTrueHD mix does not disappoint. Though I mentioned that the action scenes felt a bit lacking, they certainly sound remarkable for those brief moments. Other set pieces provide strong surrounding sound, in particular a scene involving a huge supercomputer. Dialogue delivery and music playback also get a nice treatment.

Features (Zero Stars)

Like a dead cell phone battery, I got nothing on this Blu-ray.

Summary:

Despite a good cast and a promising first half, Echelon Conspiracy canít do a whole lot to succeed where Eagle Eye also failed. Itís kind of hard to admit to people that the last good action flick involving man vs. technology was Stealth, because I get laughed at for admitting I liked it. Iím sorry, folks, but itís the truth.

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