VANTAGE POINT takes a storyline that is a middling throwback to the Cold War paranoid fantasies of a half-century ago and tries to jazz it up with a multi-view narrative. The device makes the most of doing the requisite slow reveal of exactly what happened before, during, and after a terrorist attack in Spain, but the plot itself spins so fast and free, that after a while, nothing is so much a shock as a mild sort of surprise that the writer made that choice. In other words, it relies less by the impetus of the core elements, than on a plot that goes bump in the night when not wallowing in schmaltz.
The intersection of each viewpoint is the joint appearance by heads of state participating in a summit to discuss how to conduct the war on terror. Naturally, this sort of thing invites a terrorist attack, and so almost as soon as he takes to the stage, the President of the United States (William Hurt) is gunned down. And then a bomb goes off. And then another one goes off, just for good measure. The points of view are, in order, the field producer (Sigourney Weaver) of a cable news network covering the summit; the secret service agent (Dennis Quaid) just back on the job after saving the president from an assassination attempt six months previously and having a small nervous breakdown as a result; the tourist (Forest Whitaker) with the DVD camera who records key bits of information; the local lawman (Eduardo Noriega) who is a fool for love; the President who is pondering an air strike on a friendly country to root out a terrorist camp; and the terrorists themselves. It’s a sly jab that the first segment, the one in which we see what the cable news network knows, is the one that has the least salient information about what really happened. There is a lovely punch line at the end that brings that full circle and full points for inserting that wry note of irony in an otherwise pedestrian script. As for the other segments, they supply the missing pieces of the puzzle, shift assumptions, and add a few new mysteries while spinning further and further into fantasyland.
It couldn’t possibly end in any way other than a car chase at full speed through the sleepy town of Salamanca. Unfortunately, like the rest of the film, while it is staged and directed competently enough, there is no real edginess to it, especially when it sinks to the lowest trick in the book, the cute kid in peril. Noriega has a fine and florid passion, but it’s Quaid that brings the most emotion to the proceedings, twitching with self-doubt before the shooting, and then, when racing along in pursuit of the culprits, emoting enough frustrated rage channeled into a reckless determination that it alone keeps the film afloat into its denouement. It explains why his character can emerge unscathed from a car that has been accordioned into the side of a building. The terrorists couldn’t possibly be anything but the by-now cliché dealers of nefarious deeds, from suicide-bomb belts to, gasp, not keeping their word when it comes to deals they make with pawns under duress.
VANTAGE POINT is a stale effort that seems content to find its niche in a harmless mediocrity. Interesting where it should be riveting, it’s more an emblem of the zeitgeist than something memorable that will have a shelf-life beyond that of the current events on which it capitalizes.