Technology, and story, run amok


“Echelon Conspiracy” is a poor man’s “Eagle Eye,” a conspiracy thriller that feels irrelevant not just because it follows so closely in Shia LaBeouf’s footsteps, but also because its Big Brother, Bush-era political hand-wringing already seems like yesterday’s news.

The movie premiered at Cannes last year, titled “The Gift,” so you can’t get too bent out of shape that its story of a government computer getting too big for its britches is virtually the same as “Eagle Eye.” But in hurdling various leaps of logic, it helps to have a decent budget and Steven Spielberg on your side. All “Echelon” can offer is some wobbly action and views of Red Square.

The movie pings from Bangkok to Prague to Moscow to Omaha, Neb.,(!) as computer engineer Max Peterson (Shane West) discovers that free cellphones sometimes come with hidden charges. Initially, though, it’s all good. Max gets a text message to cancel a plane flight home -- he later learns the plane crashed. Max receives a message to play a particular slot machine -- jackpot!


Max never stops to think about why this may be happening until some nasty National Security Agency agents put a bag over his head and ask him where he found the phone. This does little to affect Max’s dinner plans with a beautiful brunette (Tamara Feldman), who knows more than she lets on. (And kung fu too!)

When the initial riddle of the cellphone is discarded for a tale of a sinister computer looking to rule the world, “Echelon” becomes even less fun. Ed Burns and Ving Rhames turn up as NSA agents. Martin Sheen plays their boss. Cars explode. Sudoku is dissed.

And, per current Hollywood fashion, technology is viewed with fear and loathing. Gone are the bubbly days of “You’ve Got Mail.” If Tom Hanks met Meg Ryan now, he’d be hiding a surveillance camera.



‘Echelon Conspiracy’

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, some sexuality and brief language.

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Playing: In general release