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Thrills a-plenty

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The new “24”-ish action drama “Vantage Point” and the concert film “U2 3D”

Given that most of you may not have seen “Rashomon,” the Akira Kurosawa crime thriller that was twisting character viewpoints into pretzels all the way back in 1950, the best way to describe the new film “Vantage Point” is to invoke the television show that has pretty much become synonymous with the government/spy/conspiracy thriller genre in recent years: Fox's “24.” In terms of filmmaking, that “Vantage Point” has taken that show's most nail-biting episodes into its DNA is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because, when “VP” is good, it's really good — a solid action thriller with a nice finish and some genuine surprises. Bad because — like “24” — “VP” is more than willing to play the kind of clumsy cliffhanger tricks that make watching most TV shows these days so damned frustrating, withholding crucial elements of the plot to keep the audience watching through the next soda commercial.

Though the action in “Vantage Point” is theoretically carved up between six viewpoints, the main character of the film is Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), an anxiety-ridden Secret Service agent just back from a six-month leave after taking an assassin's bullet for the president. On duty with the Big Guy during an anti-terrorism summit in Spain, Barnes is shadowed by young hotshot Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox), who is there to make sure he doesn't freeze at the moment of truth. That moment comes a second after the president (William Hurt) steps to the podium. Two shots ring out, and the president is hit. Shortly after he is loaded into an ambulance and hauled away, a huge explosion lays waste to the plaza where he had been speaking and the crowd that had assembled. Over the next 30 minutes, with the clock periodically resetting itself to moments before the president and his Secret Service detail arrive at the plaza, the whole story slowly assembles itself through the eyes of Barnes and several eyewitnesses — a hard-ass television producer (Sigourney Weaver); a Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega); a vacationing tourist who might have caught the whole plot on film (Forest Whitaker), and an ex-Special Forces operative (Edgar Ramirez).

Though all the flipping back and forth in time and point of view can be frustrating, even for those familiar with a more non-linear form of film, “Vantage Point” eventually pays some nice dividends for those willing to stick it out. I can usually see a plot twist coming from a mile away, and with this film there were actually two or three that snuck up on me. Couple that with one of the best car chases since “The Bourne Identity” — with Agent Barnes dialing the White House switchboard with one hand while flogging a seemingly indestructible sub-compact after the baddies through the crowded, narrow streets of a medieval Spanish village — and you get more than enough for your money. Definitely worth a look for fans of the action/thriller genre.

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