Paramount Pictures | 2009 | 105 mins | Rated PG-13

Throughout the history of film, Hollywood has a history of creating knockoffs. Filmmakers and executives don’t restrict the art of the art of the knockoff to the movies themselves; sometimes they extend the policy to actors. Over the past few years, Shia LaBeouf has become a fairly big star with an irresistible smile, reconstructed chin and changeable hair. Why am I droning on about young Shia, you ask? Echelon Conspiracy is reminiscent of his offering, Eagle Eye. Beyond that, the film is a lame rehash of the techno thriller genre that has been so popular over the past decade or so.

Echelon ConspiracyClearly the distributors of Echelon Conspiracy, Dark Castle/Paramount had their doubts about the film. Formerly titled The Gift, filming was completed back in 2007 but the movie was shelved until February 2009, when it received a limited theatrical run in the United States. While Echelon Conspiracy doesn’t have the star power of Shia LaBeouf, the film is hardly a bevy of “D-listers:” “the star,” Shane West, was a member of the cast of ER for the last few years and he is joined by Ed Burns, Ving Rhames, Jonathan Pryce, and Martin Sheen. The problem is, the listless script doesn’t give them anything particularly exciting or worthwhile to do.

Just as computer whiz Max Peterson (Shane West), is preparing to leave Bangkok after a successful networking job, he receives a mysterious package. Inside is a mobile device that asks him to cancel his flight and stay another day. Believing the text messaging device to be a gimmick from his hotel, he decides to stay. However, he later learns that the light he was supposed to be on crashed, killing everyone aboard. Later, the device instructs him to buy a particular stock which subsequently rises 300% just hours later. After that piece of information, Masx decides he better start taking this new device very seriously. From there, he heads to Prague, where he wins millions of dollars in a casino by following each direction of the device. Suspicious of his win, casino security man John Reed (Edward Burns) attempts to detain him. This chase is ended by the intervention of FBI Agent Dave Grant (Ving Rhames) who handcuffs Max and interrogates him for information about the mobile. Max is frightened, but unable to provide any details.
Max finds himself in the middle of a technological conspiracy. At the center4 of it all, is an omniscient communication surveillance computer system known as “Echelon.” Unbeknownst to Max, the NSA has been monitoring him because the mobile device is given him messages from Echelon; in turn, Echelon is responsible for the deaths of several Americans, most recently an IT specialist working in the Pentagon.

While Echelon may sound like a promising thriller, the screenplay by Kevin Elders and Michael Nitsberg is pure drivel. Utterly predictable, the film plays out like a bad made-for-television movie rather than a theatrical release. The action sequences are flat, the dialogue cheesy and the solid roster of talent loos thoroughly bored. In what might be the biggest flaw for a technology thriller, the films implementation of the technology that drives the action is terrible. The mobile device Max carries around looks fake–couldn’t the filmmakers get one of the countless cell phone companies to provide them with a device? On top of that, the film throws in a meaningless romance that generates about as much heat as an ice cube. A cheap knockoff of countless techno thrillers before it, Echelon Conspiracy fails to ignite the imagination in any way.

Echelon Conspiracy comes to Blu-ray with 1080p, 2.40:1-framed transfer. Several outdoor shots throughout — whether in Bangkok, Prague, or Moscow — often deliver solid depth, fine detail and a vast array of colors. Other shots take on a more bland appearance. The inside of the Prague casino never looks all that convincing and while awash in color, it takes on a decidedly warm appearance that highlights red and oranges considerably. Close-up shots of objects often appear hazy, undefined and soft. However, general objects that tend to look good in the better Blu-ray transfers — sidewalks, building façades, and clothing — do impress here. Flesh tones tend to look a bit red or even slightly orange. Blacks range from solid to bright to drowning out detail. All in all, Echelon Conspiracy is a rather uneven transfer.

Echelon Conspiracy delivers a very good but not great, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Sound effects generally impress as they scatter and move about the soundstage to loud, clear and accurate effect. Shootouts impress; whether the weapon is suppressed or not, whizzing rounds scream across the soundstage, the subsequent impacts on glass and other objects delivering a pleasing and seemingly dangerous sonic experience. While the track does it’s job, it doesn’t stand out.

No special features are included with this release.

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