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'Vantage Point' is a clever, engaging film

Vantage Point (PG-13)

2 1/2 stars out of 4

When a movie is scheduled to be released in mid-fall and gets shifted to late winter, that's not usually a good sign. It's even more suspect when it's top heavy with A-list talent like this one. That being said, "Vantage Point" isn't as bad as it could have been, but it isn't going to trigger much water-cooler conversation, either.

Borrowing heavily from the "Rashômon" blueprint, "Vantage Point" takes the same event and presents it from multiple perspectives. This similar approach was used to much better effect in the war drama "Courage Under Fire" and to a lesser extent in "The Usual Suspects," but here it comes off more as a gimmick than as a legitimate storytelling device.

The plot is topical and immediately arresting. An unpopular U.S. president (William Hurt) is in Spain to take part in a global summit on terrorism. He's greeted by protesters, and just before he starts his opening speech, he's shot. Bedlam ensues, he's whisked away by the Secret Service, and seconds later a bomb explodes.

The film opens inside a TV news production truck located near the gathering. Sigourney Weaver plays the director of the broadcast, and the movie's director, Pete Travis, does a splendid job of showing the immense difficulty and crack timing required to assemble a live telecast of this nature. We see what happens, but only through the subsequent sequences do we get the when, who and where, but little of the why.

This is the first feature film for both TV veteran Travis and screenwriter Barry Levy, and they get a lot right. Every segment (roughly eight in all) adds something to the segment that precedes it, but after the fourth or fifth interpretation, it all starts feeling redundant. What keeps us waiting and on edge is the idea that something new will come along that will throttle us - and it does - but not so much in a good way.

The filmmakers should have stuck closer to the "less is more" approach of "Rashômon." In it, there were just four different interpretations. By doubling the content, the filmmakers dilute, by half, the overall impact. The last twist also takes a forced humanitarian stance that doesn't jibe with everything which has preceded it. After a prologue that is hard-bitten and streamlined, the movie resolves itself into something more touchy-feely and soft.

Travis and Levy make a good team. As first efforts go, both show great instinct for technique, style and substance. Each is just one movie away from doing what writer/director (and Oscar nominee) Tony Gilroy did with "Michael Clayton." "Vantage Point" is clever and engaging, but just a tad overdone. (Sony/Columbia)