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Movie Review: Vantage Point

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Formulated and orchestrated with all the stylistic panache of a freshman Psych 101 term paper, Vantage Point enumerates Suspense For Dummies diagramming, Cliff-noting shortcuts on its depreciated way to ‘Master of Suspense’ – Alfred Hitchcock – emulation. Whereas Sir Hitch plugged into primal fears of the unknown by having ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations, Vantage taps our self-preserving need to unplug, lest our electronic impulses are smelted into second person, Choose Your Own Adventure equipment failure.

Assuredly, in the imperfect anticipatory hands of contemporary directors like Brian De Palma or Oliver Stone, Vantage’s original screenplay would have had more heart-pounding appeal. In their absence, we’re left with a roguish, two-pronged boomerang of plot and narrative — neither abstains from repeatedly returning to the scene of the crime — that results in a tortuous exercise in ephemerality that wouldn’t outpace Jack Bauer’s (Kiefer Sutherland) commercial-plagued histrionic pursuits on any episode of TV's 24.

Ink not dry from the opening credits, the president of the United States is the target of an assassination attempt while giving a speech at an outdoor plaza in Spain. That’s the setup for Vantage Point. That’s it — and that’s the unabridged version. Being (un)kind rewinding the events leading up to the fatal gunshot, the movie quite literally engages a VHS playback of the identical action whilst a 24-ish clock posted on the screen resets to 11:59:57a.m. seconds. And counting.

The ensuing 85 minutes is devoted to hashing, rehashing, and re-rehashing the same 23-minute window of time leading up to the assassination attempt from multiple characters’ aloof points of view, all with opposing lawful and unlawful interests, to one time- and mind-bending degree or another. Imagine watching the JFK Zapruder film on an endless loop — Groundhog Day (1993) style — without the added benefit of caring whom the guy taking the bullet is. That comedy’s tagline, “He’s having the worst day of his life…over, and over…” proves to be nothing if not prophetic for President Ashton 15 years hence.

Reinforcing its own preoccupation with the humanistic chasm between perception and reality, the filmmakers (first time helmer Peter Travis) think it somehow enthralling to offer a single set piece for hunkering down to stage the action. Without claustrophobic equivocation, first time screenwriter Barry Levy (Levy was working as a grade-school teacher when he sold this, his first script, to Columbia Pictures) structures the story so that the same politically murderous event is presented over and over again, eight times to be exact — coinciding with the number of characters whose eyes we’re grievously construing the reoccurring events through. Whatever ‘political thriller’ charge may exist at the film’s outset is quickly short circuited by an episode in desperate need of script-doctor soldering.

With an ensemble cast serving as its invertebrate backbone, the film framework disassembles the foundational assassination plot so we have the luxury of seeing how the political jigsaw puzzle pieces fit together. These viewpoints come in the persons of a television news producer (Sigourney Weaver), two Secret Service Agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) — one crooked, one not — a local Spaniard police officer (Eduardo Noriega), two terrorists (Edgard Ramirez and Saïd Taghmaoui), an American vacationing business man (Forest Whitaker), and the president himself (William Hurt). Pity, the Commander-in-Chief’s body double — yes, there’s a body double á la Dave (1993) — doesn’t bear the honor of sharing his outlook on being the person that’s revealed to actually have been shot. In this election year, if you are partisan to a Hurt President, you’re out of luck — the actor’s bastardized twin portrayal doubles his statesmanly-lessness.

By the time the octagonal conclusion circles around, political affiliation notwithstanding, you’ll find yourself unpatriotically rooting for President Ashton to stay dead this time insofar as you won’t have to hear the same political mumbo-jumbo speech yet again. Throw down your weapon, surrender your hands in the air, and embrace your own urge to confess to a crime you most certainly didn’t commit: I did it, I did it! I was the second gunman on the grassy knoll. Now please, just make it stop.

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