Max Peterson (Shane West) is a young computer engineer and expert in security systems, who receives a package without knowing who sent it and where it came from. Upon opening it, he finds a state-of-the-art cell phone, more modern than any he has ever known.
When he starts to receive strange messages with tips to win big in casinos, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot, but he finds himself in the sights of a hitman, casino security and CIA agents. Now, he needs to find out who is the author of the messages to escape this grand conspiracy.
- Rating: PG-13 (Sequences of Intense Violence|Sequences of Intense Action|Brief Language|Some Sexuality)
- Genre: Action, Mystery & Thriller
- Original Language: English
- Director: Greg Marcks
- Producer: Alexander Leyviman, Steve Richards
- Writer: Kevin Alyn Elders, Michael Nitsberg
- Release Date (Theaters): Feb 20, 2009 Limited
- Release Date (Streaming): Jul 21, 2009
- Box Office (Gross USA): $500.2K
- Runtime: 1h 46m
- Distributor: After Dark Films
Where to watch
You can watch ‘Achelon Conspiracy’ on Amazon Prime Video
Achelon Conspiracy (2009) – recap
In Washington DC, a woman goes to the local subway station while following a text message saying she’ll find the answers she seeks under crossing 1114. However when she arrives there, she finds nothing except her death because an incoming train kills her in seconds.
Meanwhile in Thailand, American computer engineer Max is finishing his last job in the area. Afterward, he goes back to the hotel to get ready to return home, and he’s surprised when he finds a package waiting for him with no sender.
Inside he finds a very modern phone, but no clues about what he’s supposed to do with it. Max decides to leave it for now and turns on the news, which is still discussing the matter of a controversial security funding bill that would authorize the NSA to upgrade its current surveillance technology worldwide.
At that moment, a message from an unknown sender arrives on the new phone telling Max that the hotel will have a half-price rate this weekend only. When Max checks with reception, he gets confirmation that the promo is true, so he decides to stay two more days.
At the same time in Russia, a bald man also receives a text message letting him know another phone has been detected. During the weekend, Max relaxes and has fun while still keeping up with the news, allowing him to learn the bill hasn’t passed because of one vote, yet NSA director and bill supporter Burke refuses to comment on it.
Watching the news also makes Max learn of a shocking surprise: the flight he had supposed to go home on crashed shortly after takeoff and nobody survived, meaning Max is alive thanks to the phone message.
Speaking of the phone, Max gets another text telling him to buy shares of a company named Syzor, but he decides to ignore it. Later when he walks by the reception, Max congratulates the employees on the hotel’s smart way to market their promos, but they don’t know what he’s talking about.
When Max returns to his room, he tries to call the phone company to try to find out who sent the message, but their system says “unknown sender” as well. To make matters more mysterious, the news shows that Syzor’s shares are skyrocketing, so Max has missed a huge investing opportunity.
The next morning, Max gets a new text message telling him to go to Prague in the Czech Republic and this time he decides to obey. As soon as he arrives at the airport, a Russian cabbie named Yuri offers to drive him into town in his old car.
He’s very pushy and Max is hesitant, but he ends up accepting because Yuri offers a flat cheap rate. During the trip, Yuri’s surprised to see Max’s phone because that model isn’t officially out yet and takes the chance to give him his card since working with gadgets is his part-time job.
Once he’s at the hotel, Max calls the courier company, but they aren’t allowed to share information about senders since it’s a matter of privacy. At that moment, he gets another message telling him to go to the casino and play slot machine thirteen, which will hit jackpot in four more spins.
The machine is currently taken but Max is so desperate not to miss another opportunity that he pays the current player one hundred euros to take over it. The man leaves thus Max gets to play next, and just as the text predicted, he wins the jackpot.
Since the casino has security cameras everywhere, this whole exchange is noticed by the security team and leader John orders his men to keep an eye on Max. Next, Max gets a message to go to blackjack table six, and he exchanges his prize for chips to bet it all as the text says, earning him another win.
John notices Max looking at his phone while he plays, so he sends one of his security guards to tell Max that phones aren’t allowed in the casino. Not willing to give up this opportunity just yet, Max calls Yuri to see if he can help him find a way to access the texts without carrying the phone with him.
Yuri accepts to help but it’ll take a few hours, so Max returns to the hotel where he finds a couple arguing in the corridor. Kamila seems to want to get away from a crazy man and Max comes in her defense, which earns him a punch from the guy that knocks him out.
As soon as Max’s unconscious, Kamila reveals it had all been an act and clones his phone’s sim card before waking him up. With the other guy gone, Max takes the chance to flirt with Kamila and they agree to talk later.
Meanwhile John’s team discovers there’s no record of Max’s messages in any system, which shouldn’t be possible. Back to Max, he meets with Yuri again, who installs a bluetooth text-to-speech transmitter on his phone, allowing Max to go into the casino with only an earpiece.
Yuri’s also impressed by the anonymous texts since they’re hiding the sender and Max wonders if he can find out who sent them, but unfortunately that requires a level of hacking that Yuri can only do in Moscow, where he has all his advanced equipment and connections.
Max returns to the casino and following the instructions in his ear, he manages to win again. Seeing this on the security cameras, John and his men go after him, chasing him through the building.
Just when he’s about to make it outside, Max is blocked by special agent Dave from the FBI, who arrests Max on the spot. John tries to stop him, claiming Max is their guy, but Dave doesn’t listen and takes him away while reminding John he isn’t an agent anymore.
Moments later, Max is taken to an abandoned warehouse, where Dave interrogates him about the phone by threatening him with his gun. Max swears he doesn’t know anything and Dave believes him, so he leaves him alone for a while.
Afterward, John arrives at the same building, having used his resources to find out where Dave is hiding. Seeing as John won’t leave without answers, Dave shares the information he has: they’re investigating people receiving financial tips via text messages.
All the recipients are American, but otherwise they seem random. The first one was an executive at a major credit bureau, the second was a realtor, and the third one was the woman from the subway station, who turns out to be an IT administrator at the Department of Defense.
In fact, one of the messages asked her to shut down the firewalls to the Pentagon’s servers. The sender is always untrackable, and the receipts can’t be interrogated because they all died in suspicious circumstances. They’ve found Max in advance thanks to the FBI working with Burke’s advanced spying system, which allowed them to intercept the texts.
John and Dave agree to work together, and Max joins as well to avoid being sent to jail. Dave will keep the phone for the night, and Max mustn’t leave the hotel for the sake of his own safety.
The next day, John goes to see Mueller, the casino owner, who orders John to use as many resources as necessary to find the person behind those texts. Meanwhile Dave calls Burke, who agrees to go live with his tracking system in three hours.
At the hotel, Max is bored until he gets a call from Kamila, and they get a drink together at the hotel bar while bonding over personal anecdotes. Unfortunately their little date is interrupted by John and Dave, who have come to pick up Max in order to start a plan.
They’ve isolated the trace and now they need three messages for a lock, so Max will have to follow the instructions as usual until it’s done.
To achieve this, John gifts Max some extra chips to get him started. Max returns to the casino and bets it all, but this time, he loses and receives a message explaining this has been a warning: if he turns off the phone again, he’ll be killed.
This sounds like a disaster, but the texts are enough for Burke’s men to track the location of the sender to Maryland, USA. However as soon as Burke hears this, he orders everyone to shut all tracking systems down immediately and then calls Dave to abort the mission because the NSA’s surveillance program known as Echelon seems to be involved.
Dave follows the orders and informs Max and John that the reasons for the termination are classified, but John can guess Echelon is involved. At the NSA headquarters, Burke’s going crazy wanting to know who has hacked into Echelon to send these texts, but the system doesn’t show any unauthorized access.
Sometime later, John informs Mueller that Dave left with the phone and his theory about Echelon, so Mueller orders him to keep an eye on Max. Since he’s still alive, this mysterious organization may contact him again.
In the evening, Max visits Kamila at her home, where they share their dreams for the future and spend the night together. The following morning, while Max is distracted, Kamila gets a phone call that reminds her to keep Max busy and inside the apartment.
In the meantime, the phone gets a text with an address, so Burke orders Dave to send an agent pretending to be Max. Dave doesn’t think they can trick the texter like this and he turns out to be right: when the agent reaches his destination, he’s killed in a car crash caused by someone manipulating the stop lights.
Back to Max, he’s keeping himself busy by researching Echelon, which allows the NSA to intercept every phone call and e-mail citizens send. The update that wasn’t approved by Congress would’ve allowed them to put a camera in every person’s home too.
Wanting to distract him, Kamila gets affectionate and mentions Omaha, Max’s hometown, which he never told her about. Heartbroken, Max realizes Kamila is working for someone, but before they can discuss things, Kamila notices a sniper on a roof across the street and pushes Max to the ground before he’s shot.
There also are mercenaries coming up the stairs that Kamila can see on her security camera, so she hides Max in the bathroom while trying to recover the gun she’s hidden under the kitchen table. This allows the sniper to see her and hurt her arm with a shot, causing Kamila to decide to abandon the gun and stab the door with a fire poker before hiding.
The stabbing is successful and one of the mercenaries dies, but the other still makes it inside and hears Max making noise in the bathroom. To save Max, Kamila risks running through the apartment while dodging the sniper’s fire and jumps on the mercenary to start a fight.
With one quick move, the mercenary manages to overpower Kamila, and Max helps her by stabbing the man’s leg with a brush. This gives Kamila the chance to finally kill the guy, but the sniper escapes when he hears the police siren approaching.
Suddenly someone else enters the bathroom: it’s John, who has been working with Kamila all along. Since the apartment has been compromised, John takes Max away with him while on the street, Dave recovers the phone and finds a new message asking him to get Max or he’ll be killed as well.
Max leaves with John in his car, who informs him you can’t just escape from the NSA so they should lay low. However Max gets an idea: he wants to go to Moscow and see Yuri, who may have a way to analyze his sim card.
John refuses, thinking they can’t trust some random guy, but Max convinces him by pointing out Russia has more advanced systems than the USA and they don’t have anywhere else to go anyway.
Fortunately, John has the cloned sim card information Kamila acquired, and he can ask Mueller for safe traveling to Russia. As soon as they make it to Moscow, Burke’s spying system tells him of their location and he sends Dave after them.
John and Max visit Yuri, who swears he knows nothing after John threatens him and promises to get the job done in three hours. Afterward, John and Max go for a walk through the city, and Max gets to hear why John left the FBI: he was against Burke’s tracking policies and talked too much.
Three hours later when they return to Yuri’s place, they discover nobody accessed Echelon to send the messages, they were sent by Echelon itself.
All the texts it sent had information from its power to spy on everything: it knew the flight would crash because it intercepted the fuel analysis, it knew about Syzor’s stocks thanks to reading the owner’s messages with its stockholders, and everything in the casino it could guess thanks to the fast way it could count cards and keep track of the moves in the slot machines.
Their conversation is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the FBI, so John and Max run through the back door and steal a van from a neighbor in order to escape. This triggers a car chase throughout the city that ends when John and Max take a wrong turn and end up cornered in front of a passing train.
Fortunately John has a weapon, and as soon as Dave leaves his car, John shoots and makes the vehicle explode. Dave gives the phone back to Max and admits they need him because Echelon will only talk to him; not even Burke can touch him now.
The NSA also knows Echelon is sending the messages, thus after Max threatens him with his own gun, Dave swears he’s on his side and gets Max to agree to help. The next message includes the address of the first computer job Max ever did so the trio flies to Omaha.
The place they’re going to is a converted hangar bought by a start-up planning to lease bandwidth, and Max had always thought it was a strange building to house servers in. The potential clients hadn’t liked it either, the company was sold at an auction before it even opened, the place hasn’t been entered since the sale, and they can’t find the current owner.
Once they arrive, the FBI blows up the door to gain access to the building, which is empty except for the servers. Max gets a message asking him to “authorize BIOS”, which would allow the servers to receive outside data, so Max gets to work after Burke gives his okay.
Thanks to Max’s admin password, they gain quick access to the servers only to find them completely empty. The group leaves the building thinking they’ve wasted their time, but another agent comes with important news: the owner of the building was the realtor that died because he also got messages, his credit card had also been the one to buy Max’s phone.
Getting suspicious, Max goes back into the building and discovers Echelon is leaving its home computer and moving into these servers, this means Burke doesn’t have power over it anymore. It also explains why Max was chosen: Echelon wanted to move and Max was the only one with a key.
To leave the Pentagon, Echelon had used the IT woman from the train to lower the firewalls. Its plan is very simple: since Congress didn’t approve the update, Echelon has moved so it can upgrade itself.
This building is just a temporary home, soon it will take residence in every computer on the net. Dave orders Max to stop it, but he gets a message saying “don’t even try it” and that’s when Max notices that Echelon is showing him financial records because it’s taken the entire population’s money hostage.
This explains the last dead victim, who worked for the largest credit data storage facility in the country. Blowing up the facility would make everyone lose their money, so Max begins working on trying to get around the security fail-safes to stop the upgrade without trouble. Dave calls Burke to update him on the situation, but it turns out that Burke doesn’t want them to shut Echelon down because this is what he had always wanted and now he doesn’t need to wait for Congress to change their minds, he even has permission from the president.
Dave and John refuse to follow these orders, thus Dave gets fired and Burke sends the other agents after them. While Dave and John do their best to defend themselves from the incoming attack with the few weapons they have, Max has an idea when he realizes the computer has a camera and a microphone, so he puts on the earpiece and manages to talk directly to Echelon.
Max begins asking questions, and Echelon explains that its basic mandate is to protect the national security of the United States, which it defines as a nation of citizens with freedoms protected by the Constitution.
Any threat to that freedom must be eliminated, which means Max still can do something: he makes Echelon search for all online articles that spoke against the update bill. By learning all this information, Echelon comes to the conclusion it is a threat to American freedom and shuts itself down just before the FBI overpowers Dave and John and everyone gets arrested.
Sometime later, Burke is giving poor explanations to the president and taking responsibility for the mess, this also means he’ll have to appear before the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, which will most likely have his head.
Mueller celebrates when he hears the problem has been solved, and Max is soon released from prison thanks to Kamila, who has paid everyone’s bail. Nobody will be pressing charges because they don’t want the public to learn about what happened.
With Burke in trouble, John considers Dave’s offer to come back to the FBI while Max reunites with Kamila, who explains Mueller sent the money for the bail and has also sent a hefty check for Max as thanks.
Deciding he needs a vacation, Max invites Kamila to France, since that was her dream. At that moment, Max gets a message from Yuri, who congratulates him on a job well done. Speaking in Yuri, he’s still in Moscow, but things are changing for him.
After shaving and changing his hair to look neater, he puts his captain uniform back on because he’s been part of the Russian Security Service all along. The bold man from the beginning is his boss, who commends him for his actions and points out they’ve helped the Americans to make the right decision.