If you’re like me — and I hope for your sake that you aren’t — you’ve seen the trailer for Stealth a dozen or so times over the past few months and long since concluded that it’s a tediously high-concept extravaganza of violence — Top Gun meets 2001 — and assumed that it’s not worth the ticket price, even as a matinee at a second-run theater. Well, you’d be right and you’d be wrong. Though the trailer, as usual, gives away far too much, it’s also misleading. The first half of the movie is just what you’ve seen — three ace Navy pilots (Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, and Jamie Foxx) are assigned to fly with a technologically advanced plane piloted by artificial intelligence — but in the second half it takes directions that the trailer doesn’t hint at and that aren’t all predictable (though some certainly are). This is not to say that these directions are particularly interesting or original or that they even make any sense, but in a pointlessly high-octane actioner like this, I’ll take what surprises I can get.
The script, by Rob Cohen, is a paste-job of stock characters and situations, with cardboard heroes that include the blandly cocky hotshot (Lucas), the sexy-but-brainy girl (Biel), and The Black Guy (Foxx), and a cardboard villain, the career military man so focused on the mission that he flouts orders and endangers the people in his command (Sam Shepard). The cast is game but uninspired; they go through the motions demanded of them, but none of their characters ever really come to life. The most interesting character is the most unpredictable: the evil jet EDI, short for Extreme Deep Invader (yes, it does sound like a marital aid), whose dulcet voice (by Wentworth Miller) is notably similar to the placid malignity of HAL 9000. The thing about EDI — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — is that it’s been programmed to learn from its experiences, so that when it sees a pilot ignoring an order so as to successfully complete the mission, it remembers this and later decides to do the same. There’s the obligatory scene where EDI is struck by lightning, which apparently rewires its circuitry so that it develops the ability to feel emotions, but the scene is unnecessary to the plot, as the danger of free will was already built into EDI’s programming. I’m guessing there’s some secret rule in Hollywood requiring any movie that rips off Frankenstein to include the lightning scene.
Amongst the bits hashed together from a dozen better films, Stealth includes a fair amount of posturing about the moral questions of war and the horror of human casualties; then it goes on to kill hundreds of innocent people for our whooping, wolf-whistling enjoyment. It’s a big, sweaty whore of a movie, action porn for the military enthusiast with no more interest in the real moral issues it raises than the girl in a regular porn movie has in actually eating the pizza she ordered. Lucas’ character complains about the detachment that technology brings to war, making it seem like a big video game, but that’s exactly what the movie looks like. Director Rob Cohen, late of The Fast and the Furious and xXx, has a knack for bloodless horror, the action spectacle in which a blast that kills hundreds of people is just a really cool explosion. He treats the citizens of enemy nations like so many ones and zeros to be wiped off the screen. The real moral that an audience brings away from Stealth is the same one we get from so many action films: One movie star life is worth more than the lives of thousands of extras. SEG* members, consider yourselves warned.
Jeremy C. Fox is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Stealth / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()