Echelon Conspiracy (2009) goes wrong in so many ways that it is easier to state what it does well. It begins with a vaguely intriguing premise about a cell phone that provides its owner instructions about how to gain wealth. And along with a few moments of good scenery, that is the film’s major worth that is utterly undermined as the plot traverses hackneyed territory about the dangers of technology and eroding personal liberties while pushing the boundaries of piss poor filmmaking. If you have watched anything about technological themed government level conspiracies (Enemy of the State, Eagle Eye, 24, Jason Bourne films, etc), you already know what this film has to offer yet with much less production value and originality.
This flick did manage to inadvertently provide a moment of amusement and slight amazement before I even viewed a single frame. Upon its receipt for review, I was perplexed as it is produced by a major studio, Paramount, and stars several well known actors (Ving Rhames, Martin Sheen, Ed Burns, Jonathon Pryce), yet I had never heard of it. I checked Rotten Tomatoes and to my surprise it is the first movie I have discovered on the site with a 0% rating. After I stopped laughing, I had the sinking feeling I was in for a rough ride.
The aforementioned cell phone is delivered unannounced to computer expert Max Peterson (Shane West) and instructs him to go to Prague where it assists him to win millions in a swanky casino. The rapid-fire manner in which he amasses his winnings is down right preposterous causing the chief of security, John Reed (Ed Burns) to investigate. Attempting to apprehend Max, he is thwarted by FBI agent, David Grant (Ving Rhames) who takes Max into custody. Oh so conveniently, John and David have a messy history as the former previously worked for the bureau (you can just see the plot complications coming). From this point forward, one tired, predictable twist after another emerges revealing that “Echelon” is a supercomputer created by the NSA and has been sending the messages to the phone. If you have seen Eagle Eye, which shares the strikingly similar pure rubbish of a premise, you already know the big revelation that is easy to see coming early on. And the ending blatantly rips off the finale to War Games in a totally unashamed manner.
Echelon Conspiracy is such an across the board failure that it even manages to screw up being an enjoyably bad film. Director Greg Marcks’ (11:45) cinematic malfunction does not impart any sense of guilty pleasure and has absolutely no replay value (it was painful to get through once). This embarrassment wallows in its “made for television” mentality that encompasses clumsy direction, cringe inducing dialog (I literally looked away from the screen at several points), bored acting, a dumbed down technological presentation, a sham of a romantic subplot (who even thought romance was needed in this mess), poor pacing and execution that reveals too much too soon and in everyway possible undermines any meaningful point about the dangers of technology the screenplay wanted to impart. And do not even get me started on the film’s use of slow-mo panning.
Most perplexing is how did a major studio and numerous respectable (at least before this) actors get sucked into this? I realize a lot of gimped flicks get produced each year, but most are relegated to late night cable or straight to video. After suffering Echelon Conspiracy, I think it would take one talented snake oil salesman to sell a script this inept to become a major motion picture. Maybe some huge favor was called in to get this green-lit; I suspect we will never know. The actors, who I have a hard time believing are this desperate for a paycheck, recite their parts as if on autopilot while likely hoping that the uninspiring experience will be over soon. I swear Martin Sheen was asleep through the production and someone would just prod him awake to bark out a few lines before letting him nap again. The whole movie is just bewilderingly awful.
I could continue bemoaning Echelon Conspiracy’s recycled chase sequences, unaffecting violent confrontations, failed attempts at humor, etc, but I think I have made my point. If, after reading this, you take it upon yourself to watch then you have nothing to blame but your own poor judgment. Do not fool yourself into thinking your expectations are in check going in knowing the film will suck but really will not be that bad. I expected the worst and literally got it. And Paramount, please identify any persons responsible for this blight on the world of cinema and ensure they are not allowed to perpetrate further such crimes. Also while I am on wishful thinking, I would appreciate a personal apology.
Paramount rolls out Echelon Conspiracy onto Blu-ray with a mixed bag of a 1080p transfer framed at 2.40:1. The high-def image will one moment display impressive detail and depth and then randomly seem strangely soft. In what is, I am guessing, an attempt to be vaguely stylish, contrast is often boosted giving the image an unnatural look (accentuating strange backlighting choices and washed out blacks) that does not embody enough style to sell the attempt. Colors, also all over the place, seem natural at points and then run hot which makes primaries bleed and skin tones seem like the actors are recovering from sunburns. There is a noticeable level of grain throughout which helps with solidifying the overall image that is marred by random annoying print damage. This is a so-so high-def transfer that is leagues above the crap movie it supports.
The lossless audio is the shinning technical spec of this Blu-ray that means we get a competent but not commendable English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD surround mix (48 Khz). Surround use is prominent but sadly only makes you notice how generic the music is. I am highly skeptical that anything was newly scored for this soundtrack as it sounds like stock musical tracks that work right along with the clichéd dialog. To its benefit, there is some ambient presence in several settings, and the shootouts have a decent kick to them. But making a decent high-def soundtrack for an almost unbearable movie is too little to do any good. There are no other language options but subtitles are given in English (SDH), Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.
It is exceedingly rare when I am ecstatic that a Blu-ray release is bare bones. There is not one extra in sight, and I honestly do not think I could have endured even a fluffy behind the scenes featurette.
I am surprised that Paramount wasted the resources to put the mind bogglingly bad Echelon Conspiracy out on Blu-ray, but I guess if you are going to watch uninspired drivel, you should do so on the best format available. Even more surprising is that they bothered sending out review copies, as this is the kind of mistake you want to minimize word of mouth about hoping the names on the marquee will dupe some unsuspecting marks into a purchase. Please believe me that this film is not worthy of your time and effort. The only vaguely redeeming value is the scenery in Moscow and Prague, but no one should have to suffer through this level of banality for such little pay off. The video and audio are not great but are still better than this film deserves. Now can Criterion hurry up and release another Blu-ray so I can cleanse my palette for reviews.
– Robert Searle