A low-rent version of last year's entertaining "Eagle Eye", "The Echelon Conspiracy" is certainly more than a little flawed, but does what it can with what it has to work with. The picture stars Shane West ("E.R.", looking a little like actor Timothy Olyphant here), as Max Peterson, a computer systems analyst who is awarded a gift while working in Bangkok - an advanced cell phone that sends him one money-making (gambling, stock tips) tip after another.
Although he enjoys his winning ways at first, it's not long before a casino security expert (Ed Burns) gets suspicious. Max than gains a couple of additional tails following him - an FBI agent (Ving Rhames) and a mysterious woman (Tamara Feldman) who knows more than she lets on. While Max's phone initially seems like the best gift ever, when he's nabbed by the Feds and told that those who have been in Max's situation with the phone previously have been "disconnected", it becomes a race to find out where the phone is from - but with no way to trace where the phone calls are coming from, it isn't so easy.
Without too much of a budget, the picture relies largely on tech-y thrills, and the results are inconsistent in terms of generating much tension. This is not only due to the dialogue being a little clunky at times, but a couple of lead performances that are a touch lackluster. West isn't a particularly compelling lead for a thriller like this, and Burns looks as if he's there for a paycheck.
The story idea of the pros and cons of a cell phone that could offer the world is mildly interesting, but there's a point where the story veers off into territory that's awfully similar to "Eagle Eye", and as moderately watchable - in a "Sunday afternoon on cable" way as "Echelon" remains, it does still feel a bit "been there, done that". The few action sequences are decent (but unspectacular) for this level and budget of film, but the ending is an inexpensive (and awfully ridiculous, in an enjoyably unintentionally amusing fashion) way to wrap things up.
Overall, "Echelon Conspiracy" isn't without its positives - a few moments gain some decent tension and the picture's multiple overseas (Prague, Moscow, Bangkok, etc.) locations make for some decent visuals in the background. Still, the picture exists in the "middle ground" - it's a few steps better than most direct-to-cable/video fare, but isn't quite ready for theaters (although the film did manage to sneak into theaters for one weekend before heading off to DVD. A light rental recommendation for those who haven't gotten enough techno-thriller from "Eagle Eye" and "Enemy of the State" and long, long ago, "The Net".
VIDEO: "Echelon Conspiracy" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Image quality is average, which is a little surprising, given the fairly recent release of the film. Sharpness and detail are mixed; while some of the brighter, outdoor sequences are crisp, most of the recent of the movie looks somewhat soft, with iffy fine object detail.
Some other concerns did appear, including some light edge enhancement seen at times throughout the program, as did some minor traces of pixelation. On a positive note, the print used appeared pristine, with no specks, marks or other concerns. Colors looked satisfactory, appearing well-saturated and rich throughout most of the film.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was fair, with only some mild surround activity during the film's handful of action sequences. Audio quality was fine, with crisp music and clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Nothing. The only added features are previews for other Paramount titles.
Final Thoughts: "Echelon Conspiracy" exists in the "middle ground" - it's a few steps better than most direct-to-cable/video fare, but isn't ready for a prime time theatrical release. A light rental recommendation for those who haven't gotten enough techno-thriller from films like "Eagle Eye" and "Enemy of the State". The DVD offers no extras, but fine audio/video quality.
The Film C+