Pete Travis' 2008 film Vantage Point is incredibly exciting. It moves swiftly and keeps you glued to the screen by up the dramatic stakes every ten minutes or so. It's also a pretty ridiculous movie. Its dynamic pacing is necessary to distract the viewer for the fact that it is an incredibly repetitive and increasingly preposterous movie. Vantage Point is like a hyper condensed season of long running TV series 24, sans any humanity.
The film is essentially a Roshmon styled tale of the attempted assassination of a contemporary American President while he attends a security conference in Salamanca, Spain. The narrative of the film loops back approximately 23 minutes from the event and its immediate aftermath, slowly revealing who the key players are and what their various objectives are. This device is a novel concept and proves to be highly compelling. Just when you think you have a solid grip on what happening, more elements are introduced that force you to reconsider; the man who runs up the podium after the president is shot is not an assassin but policeman assigned to protected the mayor of the city; the man who is gunned down is not the President; the assassination itself is revealed to be a ruse. These revelations are delivered in a slam band fashion, with kinetic cinematography by Amir Morki that keeps the chaos tightly controlled and the frantic chases in the film are comparable to the Jason Bourne films. In fact, it would be an excellent film if all the dialog scenes where edited out and it was just a half an hour action reel.
But it isn't. The film is severely hampered by a twisty, increasingly implausible plot. First off the President is revealed to have used a stand-in due to a totally accurate terrorist threat. As the real P.O.T.U.S. is secured far away from the nightmarish happenings in the city center, his sub-plot is built up as more of a reaction to the crisis and how to effectively respond to it until a masked man breaks into his heavy fortified hotel room to kidnap him because the terrorist leader (who must have been a despite of the Jigsaw killer of the Saw films) anticipated the switch out and planned accordingly! This and another sub-plot following Forest Whitaker's befuddled super-tourist (he manages to outpace several secret service agents in their pursuit of a suspect, while saving a deeply unlucky young girl several times) show that while rendered thrilling, the film's story doesn't make any sense.
For one thing, the objective of the film's terrorists is oddly vague. It seems at first they want the President dead, but then want him captured alive, possible for ransom but that's not really made clear. These terrorists also seem to have a network that extends not only to Spanish bellhops and cameramen but also to the American Secret Service, which begs the question, why didn't they just recruit one more guy and nab him at The White House? That along with the terrorist's origin and true intentions (Muslim fifth columnist is my best guess) is left unanswered. However, this is not the film's greatest flaw.
The fact that there isn't a central compelling protagonist is. Dennis Quaid's traumatized Secret Service man is the closest but like all the characters in the film he is too lightly sketched to be really inspire interest. 24's Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) keeps the show's often zany plots grounded because the audience is given enough time to invest in his success. By giving it's more than five leads less than 30 minutes to connect, the film has to rely on cheap theatrics to provide drama which leaves the film hallow. If you want a non-stop action movie, you do worse but this film is the cinematic equivalent of a bag Lays potato chips, mildly pleasurable but not at all satisfying.