Studio: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Shane West, Ed Burns, Ving Rhames, Martin Sheen, Jonathan Pryce, Sergey Gubanov, Tamara Feldman
Directed By: Greg Marcks
Running Time: 105 minutes
Ratings: CAN – PG, USA – PG13
When Max Peterson (Shane West) receives a series of mysterious cell phone messages that promise him untold wealth, he soon finds himself the victim of a deadly international plot. Chased by a lethal team of government operatives, Max races across the planet in a desperate attempt to unravel a conspiracy that threatens the stability of the entire world. Ed Burns, Ving Rhames and Martin Sheen co-star in the techno-charged, edge-of-your-seat action thriller.
Let me start with the bottom line. Echelon Conspiracy will never find its way to the top of any ‘must have’ list. It is most certainly not a great film. In fact, it actually barely fits into the category of being a decent film. The first act does a great job at establishing a bit of an intriguing whodunit as the main character starts receiving unusual text messages on an as-of-yet unreleased advanced cell phone unit that was mailed to him anonymously. Without any means of knowing who the messages are from, he soon finds out that the text messages are telling him the truth about events that could benefit him financially. Soon he finds himself on an impossible journey of financial success. And, this is where the plot fell apart for me. I knew that there was only one way that these events could be taking place and had figured out the answer to the mystery. So, that killed any entertainment value inherent within the story.
Next on the block is the performances by the cast. Ed burns stands out most from the ensemble as he hardly even emotes anything as a former FBI agent betrayed by his own organization and having to deal with his ex-partner again. His performance in this film is the most blatant exhibition of the “I just want a pay check, so I’ll show up for a couple takes of each scene” attitude that I have ever seen. Next we have Martin Sheen. Playing the president of the United States for so many years on network television may have softened him up. In this film he portrays a U.S. senator that is supposedly hell-bent on passing a bill to take public surveillance of the country’s citizens to an incomprehensible level. After the bill is rejected, he remains very diplomatic in his ensuing attitude. Had he been more passionate about his cause, the plot may have been a bit more misleading regarding the ultimate riddle. Ving Rhames is his typical enjoyable self. However, he seems oddly out of place as a legitimate FBI agent and not as part of some secret rogue government agency instead. Regardless, he makes sure that the viewers know he means business. Jonathan Pryce is definitely the most solidly cast member of the ensemble as the proprietor of several casinos and major corporations being affected by the text messages being received by the protagonist. Which leads us into the performance of Shane West. He is definitely the one person who had the most to deal with. His character was put through a whole range of different scenarios. He definitely does a good job. The problem that I had with his performance is that I felt like I was watching a very dull impersonation of Neil Patrick Harris. In many situations his facial expressions and mannerisms came across as “trying a bit too hard.” In turn, these come across as borderline slapstick moments which are completely out of the context of the film.
The direction of the film certainly doesn’t help the entire situation much. The angles, lenses and editing in which the film was captured and assembled reminded me of old A-Team, Magnum P.I., and MacGuyver episodes. This is especially true with action sequences. Need I say more? The direction of the film makes it very reminiscent of a “made-for-TV movie that was changed to a straight-to-DVD project.”
And yet, despite all of these factors which one would expect to devoid any sense of entertainment value from the film, I found it enjoyable enough to maintain my attention. Perhaps it was the nice change from big budget, high production value Hollywood films. Perhaps it was the unusual Neil Patrick Harris type of impersonation by Shane West. Perhaps it was the techno geek in me that wanted to see exactly how they would resolve the situation at hand… which, I will admit is a technique that I have enjoyed in the past. Although, this time, the technique was far more bland in its execution. Whatever the reason may be for enjoying the film, I can still only give this title a minor recommendation. Viewer be aware.
Crave Factor – 6
This is a barebones release. Not so much as a trailer included.
Crave Factor – N/A
2.40:1 Widescreen / AVC
The overall impression created by this video transfer is inconsistent at best. Clarity is never an issue as foreground and background detail is always pristine. The only softness that occurs is infrequent scenes in which the contrast appears to spike momentarily. Hardly anything to concern oneself with given the short lived nature of the moments. The real qualms with the transfer come in the colour scheme presentation. I don’t know if it was an artistic choice to do so or that they had numerous directors of photography on set for different filming periods, but the colouring in various scenes take on a number of different levels of strength and weakness. Of particular note is the use of red in the film. In the portion of the film in which the casino is featured as a major setting, the reds of the décor seem rather dull and quite uninviting to be honest. Hardly the realistic representation of any casino that exists today. And, in a hotel lobby scene amidst this casino plot development, a red dress appears that is highly oversaturated and completely distracting. Not to say that it doesn’t look good on the lead actress, quite the contrary. However, it is literally loud enough in appearance to distract from the beauty of the actress herself. Many varying colours have problems of this nature throughout the course of the film. Some scenes seem to favour an elevated blue tint while others lean a bit heavy on the green side of the spectrum. And others still do a fantastic job at maintaining a perfect colour balance. Of course, it goes without saying that amidst all of these variations, skin tones are consistently being affected as well.
In short, the clarity of the visual presentation is definitely worthy of being considered HD, but the colouring certainly is not. Whether an artistic choice to make the film appear this way or lighting/camera/transfer problems, it just doesn‘t quite “cut the mustard” for the likes of this reviewer.
Crave Factor – 5
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
The TrueHD track included on this release is actually quite robust. More often than not, I find that TrueHD presentations lack a depth that can make sound pop off of the print and into the living room with life-like authenticity. This TrueHD track definitely steps up to the plate swinging. The range on the track is exceptional with plenty of treble and bass to recreate a high fidelity audio experience. Explosions rattle with heart stomping precision. Shattering glass rings true with every shard hitting concrete. Every fired round of ammunition pierces the ear with brilliance. Ambient sound is handled well with each environment presented to the viewer. Gunplay scenes definitely liven up the soundstage as all 5 surround speakers track the quick moving projectiles all over the room. And on top of everything, the dialogue, music, and sound effect tracks are all in balance for a change. This is the only TrueHD track next to The Dark Knight that has proven itself to be fully worthy of being called hi-def.
Crave Factor – 9
The main disc menu doesn’t make much of an impression. It consists of a rather drab still artwork image of two main characters with the menu options along the base of the screen. And, to add to the bland design of the menu there is no audio whatsoever. No music, no menu navigation sounds… not a single blip can be heard. The only really aesthetic element to the design is the seamless fading in and out of subsequent menus during navigation.
The playback pop-up menu is identical to the navigation menu from the disc menu.
Crave Factor – 2
Paramount Pictures provides viewers with a rather mediocre experience with the Blu-ray release of Echelon Conspiracy. It’s not a highly entertaining film with some intriguing performance qualities. The direction feels like a strange hybrid of 80’s television and made-for-TV techniques while the video quality fluctuates just as frequently in tone. The most reliable aspect of the Blu-ray presentation lies in the audio fidelity. For my fellow enthusiasts and consumers who are reading this review, please take this as a rental recommendation. Like me, you may find some level of enjoyment within. However, don’t necessarily count on it.