Film Reviews

Bombs and Bikinis

If the Navy is looking for splashy recruiting tools, it could do worse than Stealth, a zillion-dollar action movie stuffed with futuristic jet fighters, glamorous carrier pilots, and an overload of explosive, mostly digital derring-do. Here is Top Gun revised and updated, complete with a new array of enemies -- swarthy Middle Eastern terrorists, nervous post-Soviet Russians, and hordes of shifty-eyed North Korean infantrymen with murder in their hearts. Early on, the movie's U.S. fighter-pilot heroes precision-bomb the roof of a building in Rangoon where three terrorist big shots are holding a secret meeting, and when the entire structure crumples into the street, we're inevitably reminded of 9/11 and the World Trade Center. Hollywood is providing a patriotic revenge fantasy at nine bucks a ticket, popcorn not included.

You want high-tech gizmos? You get those, too. Three of this noisy epic's sleek, missile-loaded stealth aircraft are operated by movie stars wearing chocolate-colored, skintight flight suits -- the racially diverse, gender-correct trio of Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx -- but the fourth plane is unmanned (and unwomanned). Nicknamed "EDI" (pronounced "Eddie," and short for Extreme Deep Invader), it's a heavily armed supersonic drone with a mind of its own -- the grandson, technologically and philosophically, of HAL, the smarty-pants computer that went berserk in 2001: A Space Odyssey way back in 1968. A quick learner with no conscience, the spiffy new aircraft flips out after it gets struck by lightning, starts blasting heavy metal in its cockpit, and sets out on a reign of terror the human Navy folk don't approve of. That's because they have a moral compass, while EDI comes equipped only with a computer the size of a beach ball that speaks in a cold monotone. The conduct of war must be honorable, have you heard? Even if it looks exactly like the latest computer game.

In this case, though, the old issue of man versus machine doesn't entirely satisfy the agenda of director Rob Cohen (xXx, The Fast and the Furious) and screenwriter W.D. Richter (Needful Things, Brubaker). They send their dashing pilots off on R&R in Thailand for the express purposes of filling a tiny blue bikini with Ms. Biel's extraordinary fuselage and giving Foxx an opportunity to romance a local beauty who speaks no English but probably saw him in Ray. Meanwhile, Lucas' Lieutenant Ben Gannon, all blue-eyed and chiseled and full of noble thoughts, finds himself falling for his wingman, er, wingwoman, Kara Wade (Biel), not least because she's one helluva pilot and deeply concerned about avoiding civilian casualties while she's strafing a shipment of nukes in Tajikistan. Besides, Ben's seen her in that bathing suit.

The other evident purpose of Stealth is to make a case for American military might. There's one bad guy in this movie's Navy, and one only: a self-absorbed captain played by Sam Shepard, who's rushed EDI into combat for his own purposes. Everybody else is an officer and a gentleman dedicated to the cause of freedom and certainly not above drinking $12 martinis and making out at the bar between air strikes against rogue nations. In fact, one of the great things about the crisis-a-minute pace of this elaborate fantasy is that its team of airborne warriors seems to be everywhere at once. First, they're being catapulted off the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln somewhere in the Pacific. Thirty seconds later, they're heading off EDI's unauthorized attack on a cold-fusion plant in Siberia, and about three minutes after that Kara has bailed out over the Korean peninsula, her parachute set aflame by chunks of molten debris. Myanmar. The starkly mountainous republics of the former Soviet Union. A secret base in the wilds of Alaska. They're all in a day's work -- no, apparently an hour's work -- for our worthies. Unfettered by the customary strictures of time and space (what a bother), they spread freedom and glitz over the world with the magical force of angels. Apparently, they never sleep, eat, or run low on gas.

I'm still trying to figure out how Lieutenant Ben gets from Alaska to North Korea in what appears to be three minutes and, once there, how he manages to find his downed lady love, then escape Kim Jong-il's none-too-hospitable nation despite the destruction of both of their airplanes and the fact that they're surrounded by the entire North Korean army. Not even Tom Cruise, a.k.a. Maverick, on his best day could pull off such miracles. Oh, well. Let's just credit good old American ingenuity and move on. Or Hollywood's irrepressible desire to fill our heads with fantastic nonsense.