There is a popular expression that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While this may hold true form many forms of human expression when it comes to the art of cinema all too often it means someone was strapped for a concept and decide to borrow heavily from a previous, highly successful movie. The over reliance on this axiom is the prime reason why many fill buffs are dismayed over the lack of originality that is generally exhibited by many Hollywood studios. When the audience becomes enamored of a particular genre the studios rush to find or develop scripts in a similar vein. Occasionally this may create a spirit of competition that serves to constantly raise the bar but most of the time what is turned out is a ghost of the original that is unable to achieve its full measure of potential. One of the types of flicks that often are the target of such treatment is the espionage thriller. They have had a long and rather illustrious history and have remained fan favorite with audiences throughout the decades. The basis is the danger and excitement inherent in the life of a spy combined with the tendency many in the audience have towards paranoia. There is always something to spark fear in our core; usually dependent on the times. In the forties we had the Nazis, followed by Communists and the perennial winner; the ‘shadow government’. Currently a growing concern is over the pervasive natural of our technological wonders we all use on a daily basis. With computers controlling the devices we use to manage every aspect of our lives and all of us constantly connected through numerous wide ranging networks it is a rather simple matter to use technology to drive a thriller. The latest in this grown type of flick is ‘The Echelon Conspiracy.’ While overall the flick misses its goals by a sizable margin it does posses many of the required attributes for acceptance as a good old fashion Saturday afternoon popcorn flick for when the guys are over and the big game is rained out.
The story credit for this one went to Michael Nitsberg who also scripted with Kevin Elders. This is the freshman project for Nitsberg although Elders has a fairly extensive background with action flick. He wrote all three of the Iron Eagle series as well as a couple of made for television action movies. This may just go to the core of while the film is generally considered to have failed to meet expectations. The premise of the story is a technological nightmare that threatens to take over a man’s life bringing it to ruin. An espionage tale like this is usually better served with a more psychological approach and the initial marketing of the film took that direction. The writers and director presented it as a mire straight forward action thriller. In such a film the action is permitted to overshadow the plot. Here the motivation is far too integral to the film and must be believed and understood in order to justify the action. After my initial viewing of the movie I decided to go back for another try this time with no expectation except enjoying a fast paced, action flick. I have to admit with my expectations adjusted in such a fashion it did work out much better.
Perhaps one reason for this is I have come across a somewhat similar plot device used in the Singapore horror thriller, ‘13: Game of Death’. That film was highly successful taking the psychological pathway. Here Max Petersen (Shane West) is a computer engineer who like most of us has a life defined but high tech devices. One day he receives an anonymous text message that warns him about taking a certain flight he was scheduled to take. He misses the flight which turns out well for Shane since the plane crashed during takeoff. Next, another message urges him to buy a specific stock which soon increases several hundred percent. At this point there is the natural question of whether the one sending the messages is somehow behind things but that seems unlikely when at the behest of another message Shane travels to a casino in Prague. He wins a fortune at a slot machine which he then greatly increases in a card game. At this point the plot goes off track a bit. Shane meets a beautiful woman Kamila (Tamara Feldman) getting into s fight with her boyfriend. He is knocked out and while unconscious the phone is scanned and he asks Kamila out for drinks. Shane decides to continue with gambling and enlists a Russian tech maven, Yuri (Sergey Gubanov). His winning streak puts him on the radar of the casino’s security chief John Reed (Edward Burns who begins the breakneck chase of Shane. Interfering with this is FBI Agent Dave Grant (Ving Rhames) who detains Shane to question him about the crashed flight. As if that was not enough, Shane crosses path with an agent from the National Security Administration.
Admittedly the action is more than sufficient for a casual popcorn flick but if you do try watching it just for the chase scenes alone. Director Greg Marcks handles this all star cast well so that you hardly realize the assembled tale talent is, in many ways not wasted in this opus. The overly convoluted story may leave you wanting at the end when too many loose ends are miraculously resolved in the final minutes of screen time. You can choose to get this in either DVD or Blu-ray so either way you have something for that dull afternoon.