Can an implausible setpiece offer up fresh thrills and insights if replayed ad infinitum from different perspectives? Not according to “Vantage Point,” a 23-minute movie dragged out, via some narrative gimmickry, to a punishing hour and a half. Circling endlessly around a political assassination attempt and its violently contrived aftermath, the film proves every bit as crude, nerve-grinding and finally unsalvageable as the car accidents it keeps inflicting on its characters. Originally slated for a 2007 release, Sony holdover is unlikely to stop traffic around multiplexes despite its attention-getting cast, especially when poor word of mouth takes hold.
Pic is set entirely in and around a plaza in the Spanish town of Salamanca, where leaders are gathering for an international summit devoted to fighting terrorism abroad. In the first of many such sequences — this one seen through the eyes and lenses of a news crew — the president of the United States (William Hurt) is gunned down onstage, followed by a huge explosion and mass confusion in the streets. The smoke soon clears but the plot doesn’t, instead turning back the clock 23 minutes and replaying the entire chain of events, this time from the p.o.v. of troubled Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid).
And so Barry L. Levy’s script goes, “Rashomon”-style, back and forth again and again, tagging along with a different character and parceling out new clues with each successive go-round. After witnessing the horrific events alongside a fellow agent (Matthew Fox), Thomas’ perspective switches to that of a suspicious-looking Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega); he passes the baton to a friendly American bystander (Forest Whitaker), who conveniently has a video camera; and eventually we come around to Mr. President himself, who turns out to have his own unexpected view of the proceedings.
Even for viewers invested in this improbably detailed scenario, tedium begins to set in at around the half-hour mark — not because the instant-replay structure couldn’t work in theory, but because its audience-baiting tactics are so transparent (having a character whisper “Oh my god” when something shocking transpires offscreen loses its punch the third or fourth time). Pic hurtles from repetitive to risible with a high-speed car chase and a hail of gunfire, reaching a nadir when an adorable little girl with an ice cream cone winds up dodging traffic.
Whatever their flaws, recent topical dramas such as “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition” and “In the Valley of Elah” at least engaged with their hot-button subjects. At once timid and opportunistic, “Vantage Point” freely milks anxiety from both 9/11 and the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but otherwise stays safe and apolitical throughout.
Padding out the backstory are some fleeting references to Morocco and three baddies whose origins are left deliberately vague, played by French thesp Said Taghmaoui (“The Kite Runner,” “Three Kings”), Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (“Munich”) and Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez (“The Bourne Ultimatum”). Atli Orvarsson’s percussive score gives way to exotic crooning whenever these three enter the frame, as though suddenly accompanying a terrorist-themed telenovela.
Directed by Pete Travis (who debuted with the 2004 docudrama “Omagh”), pic suggests a collision between 1998’s “Snake Eyes” and the two most recent “Bourne” movies, minus Brian De Palma’s voyeur-implicating subtexts and Paul Greengrass’ kinetic precision. Pic clearly apes the latter’s signature style with its flailing handheld camerawork and amped-up editing; viewers not overcome by motion sickness will note the many temporal inconsistencies between replayed segments.
Thesps deliver performances largely in keeping with the film’s hysterical tone, though Sigourney Weaver’s cool, brittle news editor (who disappears too soon after the first reel) and Hurt’s dignified commander in chief are welcome exceptions. Filmed at a replica of Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor in Mexico City, pic has a convincing rally-like atmosphere and handles its cast of extras (some of them likely digital) capably enough.