September 18, 2005 -- “Stealth” is a military action film that skips the usual formula for some thoughtful material on the nature of military leadership, artificial intelligence, secular humanism and other weighty issues. While there are gaping holes in the plot, the performances are surprisingly good from a largely no-name cast, and there is enough action to satisfy any action fan. This is very decidedly an action film with a brain. If it had a tighter plot and a real villain, it could have been great.
The story centers on three hot shot navy pilots, Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas of “An Unfinished Life”), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel of “Blade: Trinity”) and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx of “Ray”). They are asked to fly with a pilotless plane. The plane, called Edi, is controlled by a computer with artificial intelligence. Gannon is opposed to the idea of computers replacing pilots. He argues that war without sacrifice might become too attractive. His commander, Captain George Cummings (Sam Shepard of “Black Hawk Down”) replies: What does Gannon want him to tell the mothers and fathers of the young men killed in combat when they ask him why they were put in harm's way instead of letting robots fight the battles? Both sides have good arguments. In fact, the lack of a shared sacrifice is one of the criticisms leveled at the Iraq war. Only the families who have lost sons, daughters, husbands and wives have borne the full sacrifice of the war. This argument is better thought out and more thought-provoking than one expects in an action film.
As you might expect, given this setup, something goes very wrong with EDI and it disobeys orders, leading to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Then it embarks on another raid in Siberia which could lead to World War III. Yet the outcome of this setup is not what you might expect. The plot heads off in unexpected directions. There is a romance between Gannon and Wade, and that goes in unexpected directions as well. The villains of the film turn out not to be as villainous as you might expect. One villain even turns out to be a self-sacrificing hero. A good action movie requires a good villain and this film doesn't really have one. There is a minor villain who is pretty good, a North Korean soldier. But this is really a small role. The screenplay was written by W.D. Richter (“Big Trouble in Little China”).
The plot does have holes. These aircraft go all over the word really fast, but get wonderful gas mileage, going hundreds of miles on a gallon of fuel. The logistics of the film are impossible. Then emergency situations keep happening where these three pilots are the only ones in the world who can handle it. The jet fighters, called Talons, that are designed for the film (based aircraft powered by pulse detonation engines now in the planning stages) are very cool, with folding wings for hypersonic flight. The explosions in the film are enormous. According to the production notes, one of these explosions required 500 gallons of gasoline to fuel it. That is said to be five times the usual amount. The aerial dogfight scenes are exciting, especially the scenes with one jet chasing another through mountains. Director Rob Cohen uses a lot of tricky images to show us the inner workings of the aircraft, as he did with car engines in “The Fast and the Furious.”
Like most of the rest of the film, the acting is better than I expected. Unfortunately, the best actor in the film, Jamie Foxx, has a very limited role in it. He's good while he's there, but he's not there very long. Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas do a pretty good job of exhibiting smoldering sexual tension. Of course they manage to get a few scenes in showing Biel in a skimpy swimming suit, but I'm not complaining. Veteran actors Sam Shepard and Joe Morton of “Paycheck” both pull their weight playing Navy captains. I went into this film not expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised. It rates a C+.
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