A promising premise, some intense action, and a lively appearance by Billy Bob Thornton might have been enough to squeak this one by as a summer movie but when the days grow shorter and the wind blows chill we ask for a little more in our movies and this one does not make it.
The always-appealing Shia LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, whose job as a “copy associate” requires him to greet customers, “Welcome to Copy Cabana; how can I help you?” He is behind on his rent and gets an “insufficient funds” notice when he visits the ATM. After his brother’s funeral, he suddenly has three-quarters of a million dollars and an apartment full of weapons. And then he gets a cell phone call telling him that the FBI will arrive in 30 seconds to arrest him and he needs to run. He stays put, the FBI arrives, and he finds himself being interrogated by Agent Tom Morgan (Thornton). He gets another call with instructions to escape and this time, there is no alternative. Meanwhile, Rachel, a young single mother (Michele Monaghan) who has just put her little boy on a train trip to Washington with his school band, gets a call with instructions, too, threatening to kill her son unless she goes along. They meet (“Who are you and why are people shooting at us?”).
Pretty soon, they’re on the road together, doing that bickering/personal revelation/impressing each other/building trust dance amidst chases, explosions, and shoot-outs, with Agent Morgan and an investigator from the Air Force (Rosario Dawson) on the trail.
I’m always up for a good paranoid thriller, and these days the incursions on privacy from both increased technological capability and Patriot Act-era transparency provide some plausible and nicely creepy possibilities to explore. What if someone could track all of our conversations, even when our phones were off and process all of the data stored about us, our families, and our friends, at work, at the bank, at the insurance company, in the IRS files. It turns the enemy into something between Hannibal Lecter, the Borg, and the Terminator, with resistance futile in the face of such an implacable and all-knowing foe.
So far, so good. There are some inventively staged moments, especially one that looks like a live-action variation of the climax from “Monsters Inc” with a chase scene in an airport cargo conveyor system. Thornton brings some twisty humor (and, given the variation in quality, his skill as a writer to his own dialogue) to the story. But the thinness of the premise and the even greater thinness of the characterizations kick in and it all begins to fall apart. I can’t really explain how dumb the resolution is without spoilers, so I am invoking the legendary “Gothika Rule” and will give away the surprise ending to anyone who sends me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me just say that it doesn’t take an eagle eye to figure it all out.