At least this film is more entertaining, if somewhat equally nonsensical, as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Yet, the central conflict draws parallels to I, Robot (2004), another action film featuring young Hollywood star Shia LaBeouf.
Funny that this year marks the 25th anniversary of War Games (1973). In that film, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Terminator (1984), the villains are generally man-made technologies, artificially intelligent supercomputers that have gone psycho.
Wasn't it Richard Pryor in Superman 3 (1983) who was able to take control of all computer networks and affect traffic, flights, ATMs and all electronic devices to disrupt people's lives? This film basically has a similar thing happen. Since that 1983 comic book movie, technology has become all consuming. Almost everything is computer controlled, and there's hardly a bit of information that isn't online.
Therefore, if an artificially intelligent, psychotic supercomputer really wanted to cause havoc, serious havoc, our current digital infrastructure would be the perfect playground. You want to send a huge construction crane into a tall skyscraper. You can do it. You want to have a ridiculous car chase where you send police cruisers flying everywhere. You can do it. You want to sneak aboard a military plane while the rest of the airport is on lockdown. You can do it.
There's constant surveillance. There's constant control. The two human beings in this film become puppets with electronic strings. It's not just a fear of Big Brother. It's slavery to the machines. It's slavery as a result of dependence.
One of the slaves, the first of the puppets, is Jerry Shaw, played by Shia LaBeouf. Shaw may be a slick talking card player but he's also a frustrated Copy Cabana boy. He's struggling to pay rent after having abandoned a college career. The death of Shaw's twin brother Ethan sets into motion a series of events, involving an insidious government conspiracy.
Ever since LaBeouf became Hollywood's It Boy, which was only two years ago, he hasn't been anything but the quick-witted kid. He's been the reluctant, teenage heartthrob, the barely post-pubescent leading man. His role here is an attempt to be more adult. It's the first film that Shia has showcased some serious facial hair, an actual beard, more than just a five o'clock shadow.
In just two years, LaBeouf has gone from Disney Channel star to Harrison Ford-wannabe. His performance here indicates that he has the chops to navigate this accelerated course from child actor to bonafide grown movie magnet and magnate. But, perhaps he should take a page from the Leonardo DiCaprio book and be not so quick in his rise to adult actor. DiCaprio has been in the biz for nearly 20 years and it was only five years ago that he started showing off facial hair.
Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, and Michael Chiklis give decent, if somewhat requisite performances, that we've seen archetyped in a dozen action films from those of Bruce Willis to those of Will Smith. This is only a fair entry in a familiar field.
Three Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences and language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.