The Echelon Conspiracy

The Echelon Conspiracy (2009)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Shane West, Ed Burns, Ving Rhames, Martin Sheen

Borrowing ideas from other movies and mindlessly stringing them up in an attempt to create a new movie is typically a bad idea. Just watch any Quentin Tarantino movie and you can witness how ridiculously clueless such "inspired" filmmaking can be. Sadly the thriller "The Echelon Conspiracy" falls into that category as well.

Computer security specialist Max Peterson (Shane West) receives an unmarked parcel containing a high end cellphone. Soon the phone begins receiving anonymous text messages foretelling events – including casino jackpot payouts – that actually come true. When Max realizes this he begins following the instructions in those messages in hopes for riches. Instead however, he has a run-in with the casino detectives and the FBI who then reveal to him that he is being part of a much bigger scheme.

"The Echelon Conspiracy" is a film that could have been very good if it had laid off the "borrowing" for a little and instead had tried to focus on creating a plot that is driven by itself instead of some random ideas that have been thrown together. There are so many rough edges in this film where the story comes apart at the seams, where the logic simply falls away and where the plagiarism is so evident that it becomes a real detractor. Let's take the film's ending for example, which has been lifted straight out of the "Star Trek: The Original Series" episode "A Taste Of Armageddon," almost down to the dialogue. Much of the film plays like a copy of the 2008 movie "Eagle Eye," and the list goes on and on.

The next weakness of the film is the lack of logic, stringing up events just because they seem cool, instead of creating a story the develops organically. To make matters worse, the story introduces entirely irrelevant characters, convoluting things to the point that the story begins to make no sense any more. In this story there are many such redundant characters to be found, liberally ignoring the universal writers' axiom, "If you don't need it, cut it!"

I could go on here from computer screens that show nothing but nonsense but allows people at a single glance to recognize what is happening – when was the last time your computer created a garbled screen dump of a file when you copied it? – to people just suddenly popping up in an entirely different country just because it is convenient to the writers, the list is endless.

The only reason I watched this film to the end was probably because of the film's polished production design and because the pacing is actually not bad. It pulls you in and propels you forward in anticipation of how things will unravel. You always fear things are not as predictable as they seem – though they are – and anxiously await the next revelation in the plot. After 98 minutes the film is over and you will most likely find yourself wondering, what the heck was that all about?

Presented in 1080p high definition, the film does look very good. The transfer is free of any blemishes and has an incredible level of detail. The picture is sharp and has solid visual depth thanks to the deep black levels. Despite its relatively low level of recognition, the film looks like a big budget production with locations across the globe and a polished high tech look throughout.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD audio track complements the film and makes good use of the format's discrete surround channels. Aggressive and explosive at times, the track also has a neat tendency to work with ambient effects for atmosphere. The overall mix is balanced and dialogues are always understandable and never drowned out.

"The Echelon Conspiracy" comes without any extras, which may be a blessing, because the last thing I'd want to hear is the filmmakers waxing on about how great their work is when in fact it is an unimaginative rip-off of countless movies that came before. If you just go for the thrills and can get over the gaping holes and borrowed ideas, "The Echelon Conspiracy" can make for 90 minutes of entertainment. But don't expect a movie that can hold its own.