Shane West (ER, ONCE AND AGAIN) stars in this technological thriller that was originally titled THE GIFT, a genre-less moniker that would have captured the young-male fantasy of the untold riches and limitless luxury dangled in front of our winsome hero in the film's opening section, but says nothing of the Big-Brother-informed noir-mystery nightmare that follows. ECHELON CONSPIRACY is a much more suitable title (and not just because it makes mention of the international government's real-life information-tracking software system). Lightweight yet complexly conspiratorial, ECHELON takes inspiration from the vast array of paranoia thrillers of yesteryear, from the heaviness of THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) to the fantastical 1980s-ness of WARGAMES and such '90s takes as THE NET and ENEMY OF STATE.
While on a business trip in Russia, young computer technician Max Peterson (West) receives a high-tech cell phone in the mail that dispenses advice via anonymous text messages. After initially writing the phone off as a promotional gift from the hotel, Peterson is saved from boarding a doomed airplane thanks to the warnings of the inexplicably omniscient device, and so he's not entirely reluctant to try out its suggestions at a local casino. Naturally, this attracts the uneasy attentions of the casino's security chief (Ed Burns), a burly FBI agent (Ving Rhames), the head of the NSA (Martin Sheen), and a beautiful, mysterious woman. Soon enough, the phone starts making death threats to Peterson and a sniper appears on the roof across from his hotel room. Rather than the over-the-top action scenarios of EAGLE EYE, its closest contemporary, ECHELON CONSPIRACY grounds most of its tension in behind-closed-doors plausibility. And, in a movie released in 2009, the technology that introduces Peterson to a governmental techno-underbelly, rather than falling into the realm of utter science-fiction, is on par with viewers' actual options in portable devices.