Stealth

2005stealth2Movie review by Greg Carlson

A preposterous slice of military escapism, “Stealth” is so far removed from reality that it might best be considered a work of science fiction. Whipping up a head-scratching concoction of such disparate influences as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Top Gun,” “Stealth” works up a sweat over the moral cost of high-tech war while simultaneously making sure to blow things up every few minutes. Penned by cult fave W.D. Richter, “Stealth” might have been a more interesting film had it been realized by a different director. In the hands of Rob Cohen, however, the order of the day is vertigo-inducing action that bears a stronger resemblance to a video game than to a well-plotted novel.

Flinty naval officer George Cummings (Sam Shepard, whose talents might have been put to better use on a script rewrite), eager to cement his legacy, introduces an artificially intelligent fighter jet to his cocky trio of super-pilots. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel), and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx) are skeptical; their prowess in the skies depends on intangible nuances and “big picture” thinking that cannot be replicated by a computer, no matter how well it has been programmed. The robot aircraft, nicknamed EDI, proves its mettle during a test run, in which a Rangoon-based terror cell is neutralized without any collateral damage.

EDI is able to learn from Gannon and company, and coupled with an electrical storm that rewires the plane’s “brain,” develops an attitude that makes Tom Cruise’s Maverick look like a slavish follower of orders. EDI also appears to enjoy music, and downloads every song on the Internet. With unlimited access to Mozart, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, and Miles Davis, one really begins to question EDI’s sanity when Incubus gets cranked every time the jet takes flight. Voiced by Wentworth Miller, EDI sounds an awful lot like Douglas Rain’s HAL 9000, and the similarities precariously straddle the line between homage and parody. “Stealth” even apes the famous “2001” lip-reading scene, and Kubrick fans will either smile or grimace at the nod.

In the tradition of the volleyball scene in “Top Gun,” “Stealth” offers a picturesque interlude set against the beauty of Thailand. Frolicking about in swimsuits, Gannon and Wade pose for pictures in front of gorgeous waterfalls, and spend the majority of the time making eyes at each other. Cohen skips out on a love scene, however, preferring instead to escalate the romantic tension. Purcell hooks up with a local beauty, but Foxx’s scenes serve only as a reminder that he is not likely to be playing thankless supporting roles in his next few movies.

Surprisingly, “Stealth” manages a few excellent sequences, and a gripping rendering of Wade ejecting from her ruined cockpit and plummeting to earth surrounded by flaming debris breathes life into the beginning of the third act. Despite the similarities to “Behind Enemy Lines,” Wade’s crash landing in North Korea sets up a secondary plotline that offers some relief from the shenanigans surrounding EDI, Gannon, and EDI’s Seattle-based designer, Keith Orbit (Richard Roxburgh). Sure, “Stealth” is dunderheaded, loud, and humorless, but several of the CG-aided aerial dogfights offer enough punch to satisfy thrill seekers, and the simplistic, black and white, good-versus-evil depiction of the United States is a throwback to movies of the Reagan era.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/1/05.

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