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Vantage Point (***)

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Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008 10:00 pm

One would think that a film like "Vantage Point," which asks viewers to watch the same 15-minute action scene six times over from different perspectives, would represent a bit of a gamble on the filmmakers' part. However, given contemporary audiences' growing propensity for the familiar and utter contempt for anything fresh or challenging, it seems downright reasonable that we are now being sold a major motion picture that is not only derivative of other, better action flicks, but is indeed a facsimile of itself.

And given that its very premise opposes everything I look for in a quality action movie, I know that I should abhor the film. Yet, against my better judgment, I couldn't help but fall into its overly frenzied, completely ridiculous groove. Call it a very, very guilty pleasure.

The film charts a roughly half-hour period that occurs as the President of the United States (William Hurt) attends a welcoming gala to celebrate an historic anti-terror summit in Spain. The president arrives with heavy security in tow, including a veteran secret service agent (Dennis Quaid) who previously saved the president's life.

However, the best efforts of his security team are not enough to protect the commander in chief, who is shot twice in the middle of a crowd thousands deep. Seconds later, a small explosion goes off in the distance, followed by a larger blast at the center of the staging area. Panic ensues, people flee, and the secret service agent is left to put the pieces together and apprehend the suspects before they escape in the midst of chaos.

These events are first shown through the perspective of an on-site news crew, and the effect is suitably visceral, even chilling. The film then backtracks several times to show the attack from differing points of view, including those of the agent, a Spanish police officer (Eduardo Noriega), an observant tourist (Forest Whitaker) and even the president before wrapping things up with a conclusion that jumps around the different vantage points of the attackers themselves.

The problem is, since each version of events reveals more about what is really going on (in a movie like this, nothing can ever be a simple as it at first seems), each successive vantage point is more tiresome and convoluted than the last. One can't expect a movie like this to be too realistic, but "Vantage Point" often pushes the limits of audience suspension of disbelief in trying to make the terrorist plot as complicated as possible.

And, yet, the movie still manages to work in spite of its inherent absurdity. At least the film properly ties up its numerous loose ends before the credits roll, which is far more than can be said for most thrillers of this breed. It's also bolstered by some effective performances from Quaid and Whitaker, and even if actors like Hurt and Sigourney Weaver (as a news producer in the film's opening scenes) are virtually wasted, at least they lend a certain degree of credibility and respectability to an otherwise silly production that, quite inexplicably, works way better than it should.

"Vantage Point" is rated PG-13 for profanity and violence.



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