Strictly as an action movie, Vantage Point undeniably hits the minimum level of gaudy watchability with its multiple explosions and its 20-minute climactic car chase scene. The minimum is awfully low, however, and it's painfully evident that the film doesn't want to be a gaudy action movie. It plainly wants to be a smart film about the unreliability of point-of-view during a crisis, eager in the most unbecoming way for comparisons to a specific film about conflicting points-of-view made by a noted Japanese filmmaker, but I will not pay it the unearned compliment of identifying that film by name. Vantage Point is surely not a smart film about point-of-view, or about any other subject (the other one it cares about is the state of American invulnerability in a world that mostly hates us). Not being smart is not a sin for a movie with explosions and car chases, but it is, in this case at least, a failing. A very extravagant failing, for the film happens to be extravagantly not smart in exactly the places it's trying to show off.

In a nutshell, the plot is: the President (William Hurt) is shot at a summit in Salamanca, Spain. Multiple witnesses with multiple perspectives view the shooting in different ways. Those witnesses include Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), the director of the CNN-analogue news station parked right outside the summit; Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), a Secret Service agent returning to the field for the first time after being shot, just like every other movie Secret Service agent; Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), a local cop dealing with romantic insecurity; Howard (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist traveling Europe alone while his marriage falls apart back home; and President Ashton himself, revealing a twist that will surprise nobody who saw the film's ubiquitous trailer. Peripheral characters fail to get their own version of the story, such as Secret Service agent Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) and terrorist Javier (Edgar Ramirez), and at this point if you've been counting, you've come up with five points-of-view, right? And the advertisements promised eight, right? Well, they lied. Deal with it.

Here's the reason I particularly resent the comparisons being made to that Japanese film: there, the reason that we saw four versions of one event wasn't to make a puzzle, but to reveal how people remember events differently based on what they want to be true. In Vantage Point, people see events exactly the same way, the differences come only in what they don't see that others do, and this is done solely to keep the viewer in a state of confusion. That's not a bad idea for a film. It's also an idea treated horribly in Vantage Point, the kind of mystery in which arbitrary questions are raised only so the audience will have something to wonder about. Admittedly, Barry Levy's script ties all of these questions together in a fairly tidy way, but it's hard to shake the feeling that most of the film's opening hour is not much more than an attempt to justify the fact that the opening hour contains about 12 minutes of story. At the end of each POV sequence, the clock rewinds to the stroke of noon, you see, and we watch the next 23 minutes and change roll out in not nearly 23 minutes, end with a cliffhanger, and then rewind back. I cannot explain how tedious this comes across in the viewing.

It must have come across as tedious in the telling, as well, because when the clock strikes 12:00 for the sixth time, the POV gimmick is essentially abandoned. The sequence starts off with the terrorists, goes through the "how we did it" bit, and then the film becomes a straightforward action picture, cutting between three plotlines without any reference to perspective. I am conflicted about this: furious that this action turns the movie into so much cock-teasing - after having used the POV trick to build its mystery, it cops out entirely on using the same trick to solve it - but it also turns the movie into something actually enjoyable to watch. The finale of Vantage Point is in no way original, and shot like a film student aping The Bourne Supremacy, but it's still thrilling and diverting while the rest of the movie is simply eye-glazing.

Oh, how I wish I could give away the stupid ending, and thereby save you from any thought of seeing this movie! But that screams against everything inside of me, even when a significant chunk of that ending is on display in the ads. Let me say then that the work not done to reveal the ending in a clever way wouldn't have been worth it; the ending is perfunctory to its toes. Since it happens at 80 miles an hour, it is easy to ignore. If that counts as a positive element, so be it.

As for the seemingly over-qualified it safe to say that none of these people ought to be surprising in a film this bad? Whitaker and Quaid are notable for working scripts far below their talent levels, Fox is a terrible actor even on Lost, Hurt will seemingly work in any project that will have him, Weaver has been going slowly insane ever since Alien: Resurrection. That said, most of them aren't "bad," even Fox. But since they haven't really been given anything in the way of characterisation to work with, none of them are especially "good."

So the final tally: decent actors wasted; impossible, idiotic plot twists; an unimaginative shooting style; an okay but unspectacular bit of action. Yep, it's a February movie all right.