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DVD Review: The Echelon Conspiracy

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Back during the early portion of Hollywood’s Golden Era, long before the concept of “dubbing” came to be the norm, studios would film multiple versions of the same project in order to sell their product to the south of the border and overseas markets. Often, the U.S. stars themselves would appear, phonetically stumbling over an entirely unknown language to them, thus ensuring that countless generations to come would laugh at their poor diction. If you need an example, seek out some of the foreign-language Laurel & Hardy vehicles (they‘re a hoot, believe me).

Other times, instead of paying the same actors double, Hollywood would a allow foreign-speaking cast and crew to come in on the sets at night (after the “big” stars had long gone) and shoot their own version of a film, using a similar script. A prime example of this (and one of the few you may ever see, mind you) is the Spanish-language version of Universal’s 1931 Dracula. Even though the basic plots were the same, the actors were completely different. As such, they brought their own unique flair to the movie, making it quite dissimilar to its American counterpart.

The Echelon Conspiracy is kind of like that. Even by just glancing over the cover, it’s painfully obvious that The Echelon Conspiracy is a poor man’s version of Eagle Eye, the bloated Hollywood hit from producer Steven Spielberg and starring Shia LaBeouf and Billy Bob Thornton. However, there’s something about The Echelon Conspiracy’s low-budget charms that makes it appealing. In fact, it’s so appealing, that I shall now offer you five very legitimate reasons for picking The Echelon Conspiracy over Eagle Eye.

5. No blatant product placement.

That’s right, The Echelon Conspiracy contains nary a hint of advertising. There are no Blackberry phones, Porsche Cayennes, Macy’s, Visa gift cards, or Circuit City stores (thank God). Why did Eagle Eye rely so heavily on such items? Because Steven Spielberg is a product placement whore, that’s why!

The Echelon Conspiracy was filmed in Prague, Russia, Bangkok, and Bulgaria. I guess that might count as product placement to some people, but the words “Visit Prague…Visit Prague…Visit Prague” never managed to flash on the screen, so I’ll argue against that notion, thank you so very much.

4. Its low budget keeps things more realistic.

Not only did the over-pricey $80 million production Eagle Eye try to convince us that Shia LaBeouf was capable of saving the world (again), but it also served as an unflinching reminder that Hollywood can take even the most elementary of tasks and blow it way out of proportion. From ambitious chase scenes to larger-than-life, overly-dramatic, pummel-us-all-in-the-face-please music reminiscent of an Albert Glasser score, Eagle Eye kept pounding itself into you repeatedly throughout its 118-minute runtime.

The Echelon Conspiracy, on the other hand, keeps things plain and simple—with an emphasis on plain. And an emphasis on simple, too. Basically, the movie’s action seldom steps out of the believability box. Granted, this is all most likely due to the movie’s low budget, but it helps keep it real regardless. Plus, none of the white characters in this film have a biological half-black child like Michelle Monaghan and Eric Christian Olsen did in Eagle Eye (go ahead, explain that one to me, kids).

3. Patriotism or Paranoia?

Whereas Eagle Eye actually attempted to convey the American government as a regime worth dying for, The Echelon Conspiracy takes a much bolder—and for more enjoyable—tone. I refuse to disclose any more information on that point however, as it will give the plot away. Besides, every other reviewer in the world has taken the liberty of revealing it already. Let‘s just say that I would fathom The Echelon Conspiracy’s version of our government before I would Eagle Eye’s.

2. Soundtrack.

Eagle Eye’s soundtrack sucked ass. And not in a good way, either. The Echelon Conspiracy’s credits begin with “Helicopter” by Bloc Party and end with some funky techno music. This is why Europe makes better movies than us, people—they like techno!

1. It’s completely Shia LaBeouf free.

‘Nuff said. Also, there’s no Billy Bob Thornton suddenly switching gears into the clichéd Martyr Mode (à la Ben Kenobi) or barely 30-year-old Rosario Dawsons playing Air Force Agents named Zoe Perez. Rather, The Echelon Conspiracy stars the very goofy looking Shane West, a lad who comes across as the lovechild of Neil Patrick Harris and Jude Law.

Supporting Shane and his silly faces (hey, I like the guy, personally—and I like Neil Patrick Harris and Jude Law, too) is the usually-phlegmatic Ed Burns doing another “Just gimme my damn paycheck already!” performance, Ving Rhames as an FBI man, and Shane’s love interest Tamara Feldman. Martin Sheen (as a government bigwig) and Jonathon Pryce (as a man who uses peculiar analogies about arrows and his dead falcon to get his point across) complete the cast of familiar (and welcomed) faces.

I imagine all of the actors in this movie probably took their part just to get a free trip overseas. If so, more power to them. I’d do the same.

Paramount Home Entertainment obviously had no faith in their product whatsoever, otherwise they might have actually included some special features on this one. In fact, the only extras to be found here are a handful of trailers that play automatically before the Main Menu pops up (and can also be accessed via the Main Menu). Oh, guess what the first trailer is! Go on, take a guess. If you guessed Eagle Eye, you’d be correct! Somebody is due for a good shaming over that.

Picture-wise, The Echelon Conspiracy looked about as fine and dandy as a Standard Definition DVD of a Euro-made B-Movie can be. The 2.35:1 widescreen image was anamorphic, and the 5.1 Surround Sound came through nice and loud. What more could a guy want? OK, maybe some nudity, but at least The Echelon Conspiracy contains some tame PG-13 sex.

And so, as I said before, The Echelon Conspiracy is sort of the shot-at-night-with-a-foreign-cast version of the far more popular and less-believable Eagle Eye. Its cast—whether they put their all into the roles or not—is more likable. The action and special effects are kept well within their budgetary restraints, making it more realistic. The story doesn’t shoot for the moon and overshoot it in the process. Nor was The Echelon Conspiracy directed by a guy who has ripped off movies like Rear Window and 2001: A Space Odyssey hoping no one would notice.  Rather, The Echelon Conspiracy is directed by 11:14's writer/director, Greg Marcks—who is certainly more deserving of another project than Eagle Eye's D.J. Caruso.

OK so, yes, it’s a B-Movie. From Europe. And a knock-off to boot. But, hey, I was probably the only reviewer to actually A) give it a chance, knowing full well what it was; B) sit from the beginning to the end without fast-forwarding (some critics do that, you know); and C) enjoy it the whole way through.

Sure, it’s brainless. But then so was Eagle Eye.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.