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Echelon Conspiracy (2009)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/21/2009

All Ratings out of
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/19/2009

Welcome to this week's installment of "I know these actors, why haven't I heard of this movie?" Today, we will examine "also-ran" movies -- low-budget films which are released after blockbusters that have similar plots. Sometimes the two movies are released very close together and the media blames it on "synergy". Other times, the second film comes out a considerable time later and it's called a "rip-off". (And in the case of Asylum, the makers of "Transmorphers" and "Alien vs. Hunter", they simply dump their movies into video stores the week that their big-budget cousins hit theaters.) The direct-to-video release Echelon Conspiracy hits Blu-ray Disc this week and it bears a striking resemblance to a release from last year. Does this make it a bad movie?

As Echelon Conspiracy opens, we are introduced to Max Peterson (Shane West), an IT worker who is installing a computer system in Bangkok. When he returns to his hotel, he finds that he has received a package with no return address. Inside is a state-of-the-art cell phone. Max receives a text message which advertises a special rate at the hotel. He stays an extra night and is shocked to find that the flight which he would have taken has crashed. The phone then tells him to go to Prague. He follows the instructions, checks into a hotel/casino, and thanks to text messages, wins big in the casino. Hotel security, lead by John Reed (Ed Burns), notices this and chases Max. They all run into FBI Agent Dave Grant (Ving Rhames), who is also after Max. Grant wants to know who is sending the texts. Despite the fact that all three want the same answer, they refuse to work together. However, they will soon learn that the source of the messages is beyond human.

I can't really get into discussing Echelon Conspiracy formally without pointing out the film's one major flaw...which isn't even it's fault -- if you've seen Eagle Eye, your first thought after watching Echelon Conspiracy will be "Wow, that was just like Eagle Eye." Now, according to IMDB.com (which is not always 100% accurate), Echelon Conspiracy went into production before Eagle Eye. But, that doesn't really matter, does it? What matters is that Echelon Conspiracy didn't get released until well after the other film, and a comparison is now inevitable.

And it's not Echelon Conspiracy's fault that, unlike Eagle Eye, it didn't have Steven Spielberg behind it, or a cast which included Billy Bob Thornton and Michael Chiklis, in addition to star Shia LaBeouf. But, here's the kicker, given those facts, and the similarities between the two films, Echelon Conspiracy is no better or worse than Eagle Eye. (If you think about it, this fact makes Eagle Eye look a bit worse.) The two films have nearly the same pros and cons, Eagle Eye just did it with a bigger budget.

Echelon Conspiracy wants to be an intelligent thriller, as it echoes the sort of techno-phobic ideas which we've seen in films like Enemy of the State (and Eagle Eye). The problem here is that the movie can never been considered "intelligent", as the characters may be the dumbest in movie history. Max is a computer whiz who sets up security systems for large systems. Given this, he should be a bit paranoid about hacking and the like. However, when he recieves a mysterious cell phone from a stranger, he has no problem making it has primary phone! Really? I can't get my real primary cell to work consistently and he gets this magic one and just dumps his old one? Then, Max begins to heed the text messages which he gets from an anonymous source. This guy is involved in computer security and he's letting spam control his life? (And Max isn't alone here. The movie opens with a women getting hit by a subway car because she was following instructions from a text message.) In Prague, Reed and Grant are former colleagues who both want to know who is sending the text messages to Max. But, instead of simply asking him, they torture him. And then, the trio refuses to work together...despite the fact that they all want the same thing! The ending of the film suddenly turns into Wargames, and I'm not sure that even the writers knew what was happening. And the final twist...well let's just say that it's odd.

Director Greg Marcks, who helmed the critically acclaimed 11:14, attempts to infuse some energy into the film with chase scenes and a sniper attack, but the script keeps working against him. At least the film features a nice array of international locales. Again, the cast is full of recognizable faces, but they seem to be sleepwalking through this. Max is supposed to be an everyman, but West is actually too chiseled and smug to pull this off. He's not bad in the role, but it's just hard to buy him as Max the IT guy. Burns and Rhames are OK, but they don't add much life to the film. Martin Sheen literally phones in his role, as he is only seen in an office in Maryland.

If government conspiracy and paranoia films are your thing, then you may find something to like in Echelon Conspiracy. The basic premise isn't a bad one, but at this point, it simply isn't an interesting one. The problem here is that the brain-dead script constantly trips up the story and you'll wonder how any of these stupid characters managed to live their lives without getting themselves killed.

Echelon Conspiracy bets it all on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only some mild grain. There are no notable defects from the source material. The image shows a nice amount of detail and the colors look good. However, nearly every actor shows shiny and waxy skintones here. There is a scene between West and Tamara Feldman where their shiny skin is distracting! The Disc features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good and show nice stereo separation. This is especially noticeable during the casino scenes. The action scenes, most notably the car chase deliver effective subwoofer effects. The surround sound is a bit lethargic at times, but it comes to life during the sniper scene.

There are no extra features on this Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long