There’s a good idea at the heart of Vantage Point, a mildly clever but generally idiotic thriller about the attempted assassination of the US President (William Hurt) and the immediate aftermath. Eschewing a straightforward narrative, Vantage Point takes a fractured, Rashomon-styled approach, replaying the events as witnessed by several key persons: a secret service agent, a camera crew, a tourist, the assassin, among others. It’s a smart concept, one that allows the film to essentially reinvent itself halfway through, but one that deserves a far smarter movie than this. In its limitations, Vantage Point recalls 24, another high-octane, conspiracy-minded thriller whose hook – unfolding in real time – was supposed to create a sense of urgency but often resulted in time-killing subplot after time-killing subplot. Vantage Point‘s multiple-point-of-view hook commits the same sin of padding: it would work if the script were the least bit interested in its own characters. A few are given backstories: Dennis Quaid’s permanently scowling secret service agent is back in the field for the first time since thwarting a previous attack, Forest Whitaker’s videocamera-grasping tourist is, it’s implied, estranged from his wife and family or something. But generally, heavy hitters like Sigourney Weaver or Whitaker are handed useless-to-downright idiotic scenes, and for all the attention given to the increasingly convoluted (and increasingly implausible) assassination conspiracy, no one involved provides any background or motivation beyond the usual murmurings of “American arrogance” and retaliation against the war on terror and so on and so forth. On the whole, Vantage Point stages its action scenes well, and a final, claustrophobic car chase through the chaotic streets of Spain utilizes editing and first-person shots impressively. But in great drama, events happen because of the characters. In Vantage Point, the characters are there to service the action – we’re supposed to be in suspense for the President simply because he is the President, and not because we know anything about him; we’re supposed to feel sympathy for a six-year girl because she’s a six-year girl, and not because, etc etc. Rashomon is a classic of filmmaking because its characters allow it to shift and morph at each turn. Vantage Point wants to do that, but in the end, all it has is a shallow gimmick.