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Be Kind, Don't Rewind

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Beware movies bearing their premise as a title, but it's not every day you can walk into a movie two-thirds of the way through and still see the entire thing. The filmmakers behind "Vantage Point," in which we witness multiple people witness the same terrorist attack many times, refer to the structure as a puzzle.

Others might call it puzzling. Still others, who recall movies like "Phone Booth" and "Cellular," might call it just another cheap gimmick.

Gimmicks are fine, but can we please think them through more carefully? At the beginning of the action, specifically pointed out many, many times as noon, we witness a peace summit in a public square in Spain derailed by a terrorist strike. The American president (William Hurt) is shot and some bombs explode. Dennis Quaid tackles a suspect. Forest Whitaker captures it all on a digital camcorder. Sigourney Weaver appears horrified from a news organization command center. Audience members sigh as they prepare to witness it all again.

The heavy-handed vantage device is cued every time with an embarrassingly literal rewind of the action. From the ticket-holder viewpoint, it feels like you are being moved back to the end of the line every time you reach the door. At a recent preview screening, spectators were already vocalizing their growing despair when the clock had only struck 12 for the third time. Those groans, however, would probably sound less disheartening to the filmmakers than the outright laughter and catcalls that came later.

The least the movie could offer is a satisfying picture once the puzzle is complete, but if there is a shocking revelation offered at the climax, I missed it. In the end there's only good guys and bad guys, all chasing each other on foot and in cars in a sequence so ineptly directed it could be part of "Team America: World Police." The filmmakers appear convinced it all adds up to a clever postmodern suspense thriller. But suspense, as Hitchcock would say, is a ticking time bomb. "Vantage Point" is at best a series of little bombshells stringing the audience along. Unfortunately they are more likely to flinch with laughter than surprise. (PG-13) 90 min. S





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