Much like Watergate ushered in an era of ’70s paranoid anti-government thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days Of The Condor, the Internet age has tapped into a new vein of paranoia about society giving itself over to sinister, all-knowing technology. The trouble is, most of these thrillers seem to have been written by Andy Rooney, born of a clueless “Hey you kids, get off my lawn” rejection of the new, rather than a more acute sense of the dangers of connectedness. Joining the scrap heap this week is Echelon Conspiracy, a generic WarGames redux that offers up the tantalizing hook of a HAL 9000 that can fit into the palm of your hand. The conflation of all networked data into some sort of omniscient “eagle eye” isn’t the worst idea for freaking out technophobic smartphone users, but unlike, say, Eagle Eye, Echelon Conspiracy doesn’t put enough conviction behind its stupidity. It’s mostly just bland.
After a prologue in which a cutting-edge cell phone leads a woman to death via text message, the device winds up in the hands of Shane West, a computer wizard who specializes in security encryption. At first, the phone works like magic: West gets inside information on when a plane will go down, when stocks will skyrocket, and when to shove in all his chips at the blackjack table. But it’s an extremely coveted sinister device, leading West into a showdown with the National Security Agency, which is working to harness all network devices into a spying program more invasive than the Patriot Act could have ever conceived.
Once the powers-that-be latch onto West and he stops using the phone as his personal genie in a bottle, Echelon Conspiracy loses its pulpy hook and devolves into a by-the-numbers international thriller in the Bourne vein. (Cue Ed Burns, who has a habit of popping up in movies like Mr. Sandman.) The requisite chases and shootouts are relieved somewhat by an unintentionally ridiculous scene where West talks down a computer as if it were a jumper on a ledge. But by then, the film isn’t ridiculous enough to justify all the tedium.