You’ve no doubt heard of the willing suspension of disbelief; most action movies operate on that principle. Director Pete Travis and writer Barry Levy have turned out a new movie—the first for both of them—called Vantage Point that takes the principle one step further. It calls for the suspension of the snort-and-chortle reflex. And it fails even at that.
The preview trailer for Vantage Point has been playing in theaters for about 17 years, so you may already know that it’s about the supposed assassination of the president of the United States (William Hurt) at an anti-terrorism summit in Salamanca, Spain. I say “supposed” because the trailer also gives away that the William Hurt who takes the bullets isn’t the real president; he’s just a double. As one of the president’s advisors says as they watch the faux hit from the safety of their hotel, “We’ve been using body doubles since Reagan.” (Memo to Barry Levy: Are you sure about that? I’d always heard that the doubles began with Franklin Pierce. Of course, it was easier in those days because even then, nobody knew what Franklin Pierce looked like.)
Vantage Point’s title comes from the various characters through whose eyes we see the events in Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor. First it’s a director in a network TV news van (Sigourney Weaver, who virtually disappears after the first five minutes; in fact, almost her entire performance is in the trailer). Then it’s a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), still high-strung and jumpy after taking a bullet for the boss earlier in the year. Then it’s an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) blissfully pointing his camcorder at everything that moves. Then a Spanish plainclothes cop (Eduardo Noriega). And so on.
The movie begins at the stroke of noon and runs through the presidential motorcade’s arrival at the plaza, then the gunfire, the panic, and two devastating bomb blasts. At that point the picture stops, rewinds at high speed, and starts all over again at noon, this time from the next character’s point of view. The movie does this seven times. Or maybe eight; to be honest, I was so busy suppressing my groans every time that “zzz-zzz-zzippp!” started that I lost count. It becomes a sort of visual equivalent of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” (Further memo to Levy: If the only way you can stretch your script out to 90 minutes is by rerunning the first five minutes eight times, it’s too short to be a feature film.)
There are other characters, but I can’t go into much detail about who they are and what they do without dropping even more spoilers than the trailer does. Let’s just say the actors seem to have been chosen to maximize the movie’s legs in worldwide release: Venezuela’s Edgar Ramirez, France’s Saïd Taghmaoui, Israel’s Ayelet Zurer, etc. Throughout the action, all their characters considerately switch to English (even in text messages) whenever Levy and director Travis figure the audience deserves a break from subtitles. Oh yes, and before I offend fans of ABC’s Lost, let me add that there’s a key turn by Matthew Fox, who plays Jack on the series.
As the eight choruses of Vantage Point play out in increasing house-that-Jack-built complexity, Levy and Travis run out of ideas some time before they run out of film. It finally winds up in—or dribbles down to—a high-speed car chase in which Quaid commandeers a passing car, ordering the driver out without so much as a “por favor.” (Memo to Travis: Now that we’ve had this and The Bourne Ultimatum, who do you think would win a car race through narrow, crowded Spanish streets—Dennis Quaid or Matt Damon? And by the way, do you know where I can get one of those sturdy little Spanish cars?)
Levy and Travis wind up all this Rube Goldberg nonsense with a newscaster reading a line that they may have thought was an ironic coup de grâce. I won’t give it away here; see it yourself and let your own eyes roll upward with it.
According to the Internet Movie Database, Barry Levy was teaching third and ninth grade at Temple Israel School in Los Angeles when he sold the script for Vantage Point to Columbia Pictures. Final memo to Levy: Don’t quit your day job. In fact, please go back to it soon; I’m sure they miss you.