A Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid) who's back on the job one year after taking a bullet. His all-American partner (Matthew Fox), who harbors some kind of dark secret. The earnest U.S. president (William Hurt) who's determined that a political summit in Spain go on, despite mass protests and threats of violence. An American tourist (Forest Whitaker) with a camcorder who never expected to end up documenting an assassination and a terrorist bombing.
These are just four of the dozen or so characters you won't be able to keep track of in "Vantage Point," an alternately frantic and very boring thriller that purports to show us the elaborate plot beneath the surface of a seemingly straightforward shooting. The screenplay (by Barry Levy) plugs into a half-century's worth of conspiracy lore and urban legends, including presidential body doubles, rogue government agents and the obligatory "lone gunmen" patsy.
But despite a slick hook — we watch the events from eight different perspectives, as the pieces of an elaborate puzzle gradually fall into place — the movie is too overwrought and overpopulated by half. It never gives us characters to care about, or even a story we can comprehend.
The president (William Hurt) has come to Spain hoping to broker a historic peace treaty between Arab and Western nations. The Secret Service detail is vast, and the plaza where the president is to deliver his speech would seem to be secured. But two bullets are nonetheless shot directly into his chest, from an open window in an apartment building just across the plaza. Moments later, a rumble is heard from across town. A minute or so after that, with everyone scrambling to get the president into an ambulance and locate the shooter, a bomb explodes, reducing much of the plaza to rubble.
These opening scenes of "Vantage Point" unfold in crisp and taut fashion, from the point-of-view of a tough-as-nails TV-news producer (Sigourney Weaver) scrambling to cover the events and keep her cool. But just when we settle in for a "The Parallax View"-style meditation on the untrustworthiness of the media, "Vantage Point" flashes back 23 minutes, and we're watching the same events all over again, this time from the perspective from Dennis Quaid's Secret Service agent. So it goes for the remainder of the film, as each new character that's introduced adds something new about the assassination and moves us further toward a solution.
This is, of course, one of the oldest cinematic devices in the book, made most famous by Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon," which recounted the rape and murder of a woman from the different perspectives of five characters and steadily showed us that there's no such thing as an objective witness. The problem with "Vantage Point," however, is that the various perspectives don't deepen our understanding of things so much as clutter it. We meet a girl with a dropped ice-cream cone who has a brief encounter with a guy who has an unusually powerful handheld wireless device and who happens to be partners-in-crime with a beautiful woman, who seems to be jilting her lover in favor of another man.
All of these people are somehow involved in the assassination, though not in especially provocative or intriguing ways. "Vantage Point" is more deeply indebted to Paul Haggis' "Crash" than to "Rashomon" — it's a melodramatic and hopelessly contrived portrait of a bunch of people all caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
By the second half, things have turned so confusing that we barely understand whose perspective we're seeing. It doesn't help that director Pete Travis, making his feature-film debut, stages the action scenes so inelegantly: The soundtrack throbs and pulses, and the editing turns increasingly frenetic and noisy, as cars and people chase one another through the busy city streets. The grandstanding references to current political events — Hurt seems to be some sort of anti-George W. Bush, determined to win the goodwill and support of the nations of the world — make you want to flee to the comparative subtlety and genius of "Fool's Gold" playing in the theater next door.
The only fun to be had here, finally, is trying to figure out which formerly Oscar or Golden Globe-nominated actor gives the most embarrassing performance: Weaver and Matthew Fox fare best, since they're given the least to do. But no one seems to have bothered to tell Whitaker (who plays the tourist) or Quaid that this movie is trash to its core and that they shouldn't been taking themselves so seriously.
Quaid, particularly, tenses up his entire face and body, presumably to convey a sense of a spiritually damaged man struggling to hold his life together. But this isn't "Taxi Driver," and Quaid — as endearing an actor as he can be — isn't Robert De Niro. Mostly, he just looks like a guy who's about to have a seizure.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun