Echelon is the name given to a global signal collection initiative, based in a number of countries around the world and characterised by what look like giant golf balls. All communications can, theoretically, be intercepted and interrogated by the Echelon facilities and appropriate action taken.
Of course, they’re not interested in every communication (don’t expect the secret armies of justice to turn up to Granny’s birthday party), but priority is given to communications that threaten the security of nations. At least, that’s what the US government would have us think…
Max Petersen (Shane West) is a computer engineer who receives a mysterious and high-tech mobile phone that saves his life by instructing him to stay at a Bangkok hotel for one more night. Little does he know that this mysterious phone is actually part of a bigger puzzle.
As Max becomes gripped by the promise of easy wealth following the successful purchase of shares that his phone advised him upon, he travels to Prague and meets cab driver (and communications expert) Yuri, who is in awe of his fantastic phone, before he drops off at a swish hotel and wins big at the local casino.
Of course, it’s not all rosy. It turns out that all the shots of security cameras that we’ve been seeing are actually a blatant indicator that Max is being watched. Being so easy to monitor brings him to the attention of many, many people.
Escaping the heavy-handed casino security, led by former FBI agent John Reed (Edward Burns), Max falls into the hands of FBI Agent Grant (Ving Rhames) who is tracking down the recipients of mysterious and high-tech phones that have been making money, receiving instructions and then dying in mysterious (though not high-tech) circumstances. Grant and Reed plan to use Petersen to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that unveils the true power of Echelon and the people who want to keep it working, at all costs.
Shane West is a bit wet as the lead. However, the film is pulled up by captivating performances of Martin Sheen as NSA director Burke and Jonathan Pryce as Mueller, the refined and quite villainous casino owner. Ving Rhames is also worth watching as the FBI agent that gets far too involved in the conspiracy and has no choice but to come out weapons blazing.
The film plods along at a fairly sedate manner for most of its first half and has some seriously clunky dialogue: “A computer tells you what it means.” That’s not to say that the script it bad. It is humorous in places and as the action picks up it actually becomes quite gripping. When it turns into a Bourne Ultimatum game of cat and mouse, we’re treated to fight scenes, gun battles and explosions. It suffers from a rather quick and predictable showdown, but does redeem itself in the final few minutes when the Russians get involved.
Overall, Echelon Conspiracy is a decent action film that is low on intelligence and suffers from an all too familiar resolution to the computer problem. Computers, sadly, just aren’t this interesting, despite what films like this, Eagle Eye, War Games, Hackers and Sneakers might tell us.
Thank god for young bucks like Shane West, Shia LaBeouf, Matthew Broderick, Jonny Lee Miller and River Phoenix. Between them, they’ve made sentient supercomputers, hacking and the whole world of computing kind of cool, if still somewhat indecipherable and improbable.
Four featurettes are included named, helpfully, Featurette 1, Featurette 2, etc. Each delivers a very short (around the one minute mark) behind-the-scenes montage, with cast and crew talking about the filming process. It appears that they are probably from an electronic press kit and are a bit disappointing. Collectively, the featurettes are light on detail and act as a glorified trailer for the film itself.
Echelon Conspiracy is out now.