Sunday, February 21, 2010

“The Echelon Conspiracy” – A conspiracy of dumb.

It’s a good thing that I get multiple movies per month with my Netflix subscription or I’d have a problem with Netflix. If you aren’t familiar with Netflix, it likes to suggest movies for you based on what other people have watched that have also watched the same movies as you. Once in a while, it tells you about a winner, but usually it suggests crappy movies that didn’t do well in theaters. That’s how I managed to end up with “The Echelon Conspiracy” and I’m not happy about it.

Just for fun, I looked up the gross box office for this film and found that it was just over two million dollars. The cast of this film includes Martin Sheen, Ving Rhames, and Edward Burns, so I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this movie lost more than a little money. Beside the fact that this movie just wasn’t very good, it was almost a copy of “Eagle Eye”, which came out five months earlier.

For those of you who haven’t seen “Eagle Eye” or read my review of it (you better not say the latter), both movies are about a U.S. government supercomputer manipulating and killing people for the good of the country. I reamed “Eagle Eye” for the sheer stupidity that they expected us to believe, so I’m not going cut “The Echelon Conspiracy” any slack for doing the same thing.

Like “Eagle Eye,” “Echelon” features a computer (called Echelon) that is programmed to safeguard the country. Both computers are semi-sentient and hatch schemes involved in manipulating people, then killing them after they have served their purpose. Echelon’s ultimate goal is to reprogram itself so that it can have access to every computer system, including things like cell phones, to collect and analyze data and spot threats early. After using several people for their unique skills or positions, it begins to use Max Peterson, a young computer engineer, in the final phase of its plot.

Max is delivered a cell phone and starts receiving messages instructing him to do things. The first thing is to stay an extra night at his hotel. The next day, the plane that he would have been on had he not stayed, crashes. The next couple of things involve investing in a stock and playing certain tables and slot machines in a casino in Prague to make a load of money. Again, like “Eagle Eye,” these things are intriguing at first, but are rendered idiotic when the computer is revealed as the man behind the curtain. Near the end of the film, they actually try to convince you that the computer is able to extrapolate which hands of Blackjack and which pulls of a slot machine are going to pay off with a jackpot, simply based on the computer observing them and calculating odds. It’s hard enough to believe that this computer has access to closed-circuit television (especially in a casino in the Czech Republic), but without actually hacking the slot machines, this idea is complete nonsense. I’ve done a fair amount of gambling in my life and I know for a fact that there is nothing more random than the programming of a slot machine.

Another thing that continues to drive me crazy is the depiction of these uber-sophisticated control rooms in government facilities. As I’ve said before, you can see one in real life by taking a tour of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) in Colorado Springs. NORAD is arguably one of the most advanced facilities ever built and the one thing you will notice is that they do not waste space by building cavernous control rooms with multiple 200-inch television screens. Apparently, Hollywood believes they do and that they replicate it at every facility they can, in this case, at NSA headquarters. Is it any wonder why the American public is pissed about paying taxes when they believe these kinds of things exist? Of course, the American movie-going public has the collective IQ of a wombat, so it’s not hard to see why this persists.

Anyway, the plot unravels with the NSA and FBI, as well as the casino owner, catching the kid and trying to discover who is behind the plot. They also have the help of Russian cab driver who turns out to be a Russian military officer. After a lot of crappy acting by all parties involved and more than hour of really slow discovery, they stop the computer and the Russians take the credit for thwarting Echelon. The Russian angle may have been the dumbest part of the whole film, as they seemed to know all along what was happening. Not only was this completely unnecessary, it didn’t make any sense. How could they have known that Max received the phone and known where he was going to go if nobody could intercept the messages that Max was receiving? And if they did know about Echelon, which means they probably would have had access to it in some way, why wouldn’t they just send it a virus to destroy it? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

There were a lot of other stupid things about this film, but since it’s basically the same crap as “Eagle Eye,” I’ll wrap this up. My final complaint about this film is that the title proves that the four (FOUR) writers of this film are nearly illiterate. In order for something to be a conspiracy, there has to be at least two parties involved. Here, Echelon is the only party that knows about the plot, so there is no conspiracy. There is simply an evil plan, or secret plot. You would think that at least one of the four (seriously, FOUR) writers would have caught this. I guess they were too busy subtly changing the script of “Eagle Eye” to notice.

Rating: I went back and looked at my rating for “Eagle Eye” and saw that I told you to ask for all of you money back. Since, “The Echelon Conspiracy” is basically “Eagle Eye” with a stupid title, you should ask for your money back, plus an extra dollar.

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