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Vantage Point **
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Dennis Quaid struggles to sort through the labyrinthine rubble in Vantage Point.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Bruce McGill, Edgar Ramirez, William Hurt. Rated PG-13.

For those suffering through the strike-prolonged hiatus of 24, which will keep Jack Bauer inactive until early 2009, you could do worse than Vantage Point, which depicts the attempted assassination of an American president from the perspectives of five startled onlookers and a labyrinthine network of terrorists. Of course, you could also do a lot better.

Taking a cue from Kurosawa, whose Rashomon recreated a murder from the dubious (and often contradictory) accounts of four who were present, Vantage Point teases us with the recollections of eyewitnesses who see but fail to understand. Gathered in Salamanca, Spain, for a counterterrorism summit, they include a world-weary news executive (Sigourney Weaver), barking orders at subordinates even as they are engulfed in the chaos of the moment; an American tourist (Forest Whitaker) who captures every relevant clue with his high-definition camera; and an earnest president (William Hurt) who suggests, ever hopefully, that “we have to do better.”

Then there’s Dennis Quaid, as a once-bitten Secret Service agent shaken by a prior assassination attempt. As the movie’s all-American hero, he is not so much a man as an indestructible force. He survives a bomb scare and two high-speed collisions, all in a matter of minutes, and still manages to sprint his way to a High Noon-style showdown with his erstwhile partner. If he’s less introspective than Clint Eastwood’s character from In the Line of Fire, he can be forgiven: Quaid is not expected to think, just to react on some primal level, and Vantage Point demands roughly the same of its audience.

Those inclined to scrutinize the logic of Barry Levy's screenplay are likely to come away as baffled by its far-fetched twists as amused by its bombastic excesses. Quite simply, there's too much going on. Director Pete Travis, whose quite-cut camerawork lends a frenetic feel to the proceedings, keeps the action lean and focused early on, but Vantage Point  barrels off  the tracks during its overwrought finale. By the time we find Whitaker racing through the city in a frantic bid to save an endangered child who has the suspect look of a plot device, our patience is spent.

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