Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Starring Shia LaBeouf. Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson and Billy Bob Thornton. Directed by D. J. Caruso
Running Time: 118mins
Rated: Rated M (action violence and infrequent coarse language)
It is not surprising that Shia LaBeouf, the son of Indiana Jones, returns soon to the screen in this action thriller and he acquits himself very well. This film is directed by D. J. Caruso who gave us "Disturbia' and it tells the story of two people, Jerry Shaw (played by Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel Holloman (played by Michelle Monaghan) who are framed as terrorists. They are recruited unwittingly as part of a cyber-terrorist plot to assassinate the president of the USA and his executive team, in a project called "Operation Guillotine.' Both are thrown together on the run in a race against time by a woman whose mysterious phone call tells them they must obey her demands in order to live; Rachel and Jerry, strangers to each other at first, receive a phone call from the same woman, whose voice gives meaning to the film's title. Rachel is a single mother who desperately wants to protect her child who is being threatened; and Jerry plays the part of a run-about whose twin brother was mysteriously killed and he wants to clear his brother's name. They join forces together, distrusting each other at first, to try to work out what is happening to their lives. Rosario Dawson plays the role of a government agent whose task it is to pursue the terrorist cell in question; and Billy Bob Thornton is the self-sacrificing leader of a security group who is equally committed to tracking it down. The film joins together different action sequences, most of them involving the key characters who are threatened and harassed to cooperate at every turn. Explosive action literally fills the screen from start to finish and mobile phone technology, centrally controlled video displays and instant messaging all play an integral part in warning Jerry and Rachel about what is going to happen to them right now. Technology, in a world in where it has grown out of reach, provides the surprises that keep them and us guessing.

Films of this kind inevitably build up a certain paranoiac feel to them. That feeling is there, but it waxes and wanes a little here in the action drama of it all. The film never achieves the brilliance of Alan J. Pekula's "Parallax View' or Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation,' where once paranoia and feelings of persecution and entrapment set in, they never relinquished their powerful grip. However, one does become involved in this film as to how the plot will work out and we worry as to whether the faceless technology and those behind it will ever be revealed.

This is a fast-paced movie that has good cinematography and editing and a team of able script-writers responsible for it. The film involves Stephen Spielberg who was first engaged to direct the movie, but ended up executively producing it instead. It capitalizes on the age of high technology where devices all around are constantly being used for tracking and surveillance purposes and it interestingly illustrates where their abuse could end. High-tech effects abound in this film; and the stunt sequences are excellent. There is a particularly effective chase sequence involving police cars, with as much automobile-carnage as one could want, and an unusual conveyor-belt scene at an airport that packs a special punch.

In this movie, the feeling of threat and paranoia gives way too early to the possibilities of action-play that are constantly on a roll. You never really doubt that the President will live, or that Jerry and Rachel will survive, or Rachel's son won't ever get to play the final musical note on his instrument that is intended to trigger the fatal explosion. But although the foreboding presence of others in control and of the technology of surveillance that is always present has its moments, and the film probes our waking consciousness in an unsettling way, it is not quiet disturbing enough in arousing our deeper political fears about what is really happening out there and who, or what, is actually in control. A little disappointedly, it takes the patriotic way out and re-asserts, as other films before it have done, the idealistic principle of liberty for all.

Paramount PicturesOut 25 September

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

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