December 2, 2001 -- "Behind Enemy Lines" is a big-budget movie with plenty of talent and good special effects. Those virtues are pretty much wasted because of an overly melodramatic plot. Some of the film's action sequences are unbelievable, and there is poor attention to detail on some technical aspects.
The story is about an attempt to rescue a U.S. Navy pilot shot down behind enemy lines in Bosnia. As you may recall, a U.S. Plane was shot down in that part of the world and an aviator, Lt. Scott O'Grady, was rescued from behind enemy lines. This movie, however, is not about that incident. It is not even set during the recent conflicts in Bosnia or Kosovo, but is set in some undetermined time in the near future. Too bad, it could have been an interesting story if it was actually based on fact.
This story is about Lt. Chris Burnett's (Owen Wilson of "Shanghai Noon") struggle to survive in Bosnia long enough to be rescued. But it is not enough that he has to live off the land and make his way to a place where he can be rescued. He also has to find a key piece of computerized evidence about atrocities in Bosnia. He has to outrun a whole bunch of soldiers with tanks and trucks led by the evil Serb commander Lokar (Olek Krupa of "Thirteen Days"). All these men singlemindedly pursue Burnett because of what he knows. He also has to elude the dogged pursuit of a sniper (Vladimir Mashkov) who is an excellent tracker. He has to tiptoe through a number of mine fields and he even has to escape from Muslims who are supposed to be on his side. That's not all. Higher-ups in the NATO command structure are even putting up bureaucratic roadblocks to his rescue.
Every few minutes, we see Burnett running madly along with bullets, bombs, mines and exploding shells going off all around him (accompanied by an even louder techno music soundtrack). In fact, Burnett runs just like a track star, except that he never gets tired. He has a little tiny bottle of water to sustain him, however. He's more like an action figure in a computer game than a human being.
This film has many of the standard war movie clichés, such as the bad guys having absolutely horrible aim. There are a hundred bad guys shooting at Burnett, but they can't hit him. He, however, can shoot them all right. There's the standard, tough, but sentimental commander, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman of "Heist"). The wise subordinate who gives sage advice, O'Malley (David Keith of "Men of Honor"), the rock solid hero's friend, who looks so All American, Lt. Michael Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht of "American Outlaws"). Burnett himself is a cliché, he is one of those fun-loving guys who likes to play pranks, and who regularly flaunts authority, but who comes through when the chips are down.
The energy level of the film comes mainly from the non-stop action, the running, the bullets, the mines and the exploding shells. Some of the effects seem to be copied from "Saving Private Ryan," like the delayed bullet sounds and one scene where the sound is muted, as if to indicate temporary deafness from an explosion. The film's best special effects, and these are really spectacular, surround a key sequence where Stackhouse and Burnett's F/A-18 Superhornet reconnaissance jet is shot down by surface to air missiles. Hats off to special effects supervisor Garth Inns ("Tomorrow Never Dies") and visual effects producer Lindsay Burnett ("Planet of the Apes") and their crews for some fine aerial combat effects.
Aside from the dysfunctional sub-plots about NATO interference and Serb atrocities, this is basically a simple story. The basic plot line, which dates back to "The Odyssey," works well enough. Wilson and Hackman are good actors and they do as well as one could expect with this material. Director John Moore does O.K. considering this is his first feature film (he was hired for this job based on a SEGA video game commercial he directed). The screenwriting team of brother Jim and John Thomas ("Mission to Mars") have come up with another screenplay with qualities like their earlier effort, "Wild Wild West." You've got budget-eating stunts and no character development.
In order for the audience to care about Burnett enough to want to follow him through an obstacle course for an hour and a half, he needs to be shown as a full character and we don't really get that. For example, take "Die Hard" a better action film about one guy against an army. What made that film better was the relatively well developed character of the hero, John McClane. The screenplay does not develop Wilson's character enough to make him all that interesting to watch for long periods of time. As an exercise in stunts, action and special effects, the film does well enough, but it lacks the strength of characters and story to make it better than average, and it gets enough details wrong to really damage its credibility. This film rates a C.
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