MOVIE REVIEW- Well? All's well until it ends

a still from this week's filmI'll admit I probably like movies about the shooting of U.S. presidents more this year than I will next year. It's a moot point in the case of Vantage Point since the trailer reveals that the President survives the assassination attempt.

Steve WarrenPresident Ashton (William Hurt) is in Salamanca, Spain (played by Mexico City) for a conference in which Western and Arab countries are expected to unite to "put a stranglehold on international terrorism." Naturally some international terrorists are opposed to the idea, which explains the shooting of the President when he gets up to make a speech at the Plaza Mayor and the bomb blast that follows.

First we get an overview from an outside perspective, that of the Global News Network crew covering the event, directed by Sigourney Weaver with Zoë Saldana reporting. The Secret Service bursts into their control room to see what they've recorded.

The Secret Service is up next. They're led by Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox), but the big attraction is Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who's been out of action since taking a bullet a year ago. His sharp eyes miss nothing. When the shooting occurs, his first suspect is Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), a local cop protecting the mayor. He's the subject of the third segment.

Enrique isn't as focused as Barnes because he gets jealous when he sees his girlfriend, Veronica (Ayelet Zurer), talking to another man, Javier (Edgar Ramirez). Later, he thinks he sees her doing something that upsets him more on a professional level.

Taking everything in and capturing a ridiculous amount of it with his HD videocam is American tourist Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), who's trying to enjoy himself and not think about the "bad patch" he's going through with his wife back home. In his segment he makes friends with some locals, a guy named "Sam" (Said Taghmaoui) who says he goes "where the moment takes me" and a little girl named Anna (Alicia Jaziz Zapien), who's about the age of Howard's son back home.

President Ashton is the focus of the fifth version, in which he's swapped for a double (also Hurt) before arriving at the Plaza Mayor because he's thought to be in danger. An advisor (Bruce McGill) is on the phone with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recommend bombing a suspected terrorist camp in Morocco.

The plot thickens with each retelling and gets thickest in the last one, which focuses on the terrorists and reveals the intricacies of their plan.

Ending a movie used to be so simple. The good guy killed the bad guy, grabbed the girl and rode off into the sunset. Vantage Point seems to do everything right, with a big car chase and a conclusion that ties up all the loose ends; yet it feels unsatisfying somehow. Perhaps it's too busy connecting the dots to be cathartic, but the adrenaline rush of the first 80 minutes fades away, landing us too gently back on our home planet.

Maybe we need to come full circle, to see how GNN reports what we've just witnessed. Now that we know the whole story, our own vantage point is the most important one; but if the media tell it differently, their version will stand.

Director Pete Travis keeps things taut, barely giving us a chance to catch our breath. The scenes of the crowd and the bomb blast hold up through repeated viewings and the car chase, though logistically impossible, is exciting. Travis balances the epic and the intimate, always keeping our eyes on whoever or whatever we're supposed to see. Unless it's a post-coital thing, I can't explain why I felt let down at the end or why the whole movie, good as it was while it lasted, didn't leave me with more to ponder afterward.

And why, when the Secret Service has a different code name for each president, do they use the generic POTUS (President of the United States) for this one?