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‘Eagle Eye’ is for the birds

While the concept behind “Eagle Eye” couldn’t be timelier — two strangers are forced to participate in a vast conspiracy — the execution redefines ludicrous.

While the concept behind “Eagle Eye” couldn’t be timelier — two strangers are forced to participate in a vast conspiracy they don’t understand while a network of cell phones and surveillance cameras monitors their progress — the execution redefines ludicrous.

What might have been a zeitgeist-fueled paranoid thriller along the lines of “The Conversation” or “Three Days of the Condor” winds up an unintentionally hilarious exercise in the suspension of disbelief, peppered with confusingly edited car chases.

And since explaining the stupidity of “Eagle Eye” involves revealing a spoiler or two, you might want to stop reading now if you’d rather not find out what’s behind the kooky conspiracy.

Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) is a copy-shop employee whose twin brother, an Air Force officer, has just died in a car accident. Paralegal Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) just put her young son on the train from Chicago to Washington, D.C., where his school orchestra is scheduled to perform at the Kennedy Center.

Suddenly, both of them start getting phone calls from a mysterious woman who knows exactly where they are and what they’re doing. Having set up Jerry to look like a terrorist while threatening to derail the train carrying Rachel’s son, the voice forces the two of them to lead the cops on a chase through Chicago, steal a briefcase in Indianapolis and stow away on an Air Force cargo plane heading for D.C.

As the FBI (led by Billy Bob Thornton) and an Air Force investigator (Rosario Dawson) give chase, Jerry and Rachel find out who’s pulling the strings — a government super-computer called ARIA that’s using a recent error in judgment by the president as an excuse to kill off the chain of command from the top down so as to put the more thoughtful secretary of defense (Michael Chiklis) in charge of the country.

That’s right — a super-computer. Even in this Patriot Act era, the idea that one computer could control not only the entire nation’s grid of cell phones and computers but even the LED readouts on a sign in a travel agent’s window makes the advanced technology on “The Jetsons” seem primitive. It also raises inevitable and unfavorable comparisons to “2001: A Space Odyssey” (and its parody, John Carpenter’s “Dark Star”), “WarGames,” “Demon Seed” and any number of other movies about ultra-sentient electronic brains that rebel against their flesh-and-blood creators. The library-sized, malfunctioning EMERAC computer in “Desk Set” seems a more reasonably drawn character.

Not that we should we be surprised that there’s creative borrowing going on — LaBeouf’s previous teaming with director D.J. Caruso was “Disturbia,” a movie that couldn’t rip off “Rear Window” more flagrantly if they used a Ouija board to consult with the ghost of Hitchcock.

This all leads to a blow-out of a climax that plops its characters smack into the middle of major danger yet magically lets most of them live to see the closing credits. (Last time I checked, neither falling into liquid nitrogen nor getting gunned down as a would-be presidential assassin is the kind of experience you usually walk away from still breathing.) The four credited screenwriters seem to have worked in separate rooms from one producer’s note: “Go ape-crazy.”

“Eagle Eye” wastes a fine cast, from its leads down to supporting players like Ethan Embry, Lynn Cohen, William Sadler and Anthony Mackie. And while it’s painful to see someone as talented as Monaghan in a movie this dumb, it’s more depressing to watch LaBeouf waste his nascent mojo in yet another burnt popcorn kernel from executive-producer Steven Spielberg. After this, the “Transformers” movies and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” here’s hoping the young actor can find another mentor.

Maybe a super-computer.