For those suffering through the strike-prolonged hiatus of “24,” which will keep Jack Bauer inactive until early 2009, you could do worse than “Vantage Point,” which depicts the attempted assassination of an American president from the perspectives of five startled onlookers and a labyrinthine network of terrorists. Of course, you could also do a lot better.
Taking a cue from Kurosawa, whose “Rashomon” recreated a murder from the dubious (and often contradictory) accounts of four who were present, “Vantage Point” teases us with the recollections of eyewitnesses who see but fail to understand.
Gathered in Salamanca, Spain, for a counterterrorism summit, they include a world-weary news executive (Sigourney Weaver), barking orders at subordinates even as they are engulfed in the chaos of the moment; an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) who captures every relevant clue with his high-definition camera; and an earnest president (William Hurt) who suggests, ever hopefully, that “we have to do better.”
Then there’s Dennis Quaid, as a once-bitten Secret Service agent shaken by a prior assassination attempt. As the movie’s all-American hero, he is not so much a man as an indestructible force. He survives a bomb scare and two high-speed collisions, all in a matter of minutes, and still manages to sprint his way to a “High Noon”-style showdown with his erstwhile partner.
Those inclined to scrutinize the logic of Barry Levy’s screenplay are likely to come away as baffled by its farfetched twists as amused by its bombastic excesses. Quite simply, there’s too much going on. Director Pete Travis, whose quick-cut camera-work lends a frenetic feel to the proceedings, keeps the action lean and focused early on, but “Vantage Point” barrels off the tracks during its overwrought finale. By the time we find Whitaker racing through the city in a frantic bid to save an endangered child (who has the suspect look of a plot device), our patience is spent.
Starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Bruce McGill, Edgar Ramirez, William Hurt
Written by Barry Levy
Directed by Pete Travis
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes