Navy pilots Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx) are the best and the brightest and the chosen ones to fly the super secret, super stealthy supersonic Talon fighter plane. Their commander, Captain George Cummings (Sam Shepard), has plans for his elite trio and introduces them to their new wingman, E.D.I. (Extreme Deep Invader), an unmanned fighter drone that could take over the skies in “Stealth.”
Director Rob Cohen has made a franchise of turning video games into movies that look and feel like video games. His “The Fast and the Furious,” about illegal street racers and hijackers in LA, and “xXx,” with Vin Diesel as extreme sports junkie turned secret agent, were flashy, briskly paced and supplied wall-to-wall action. His latest feature length video game, Stealth,” continues this trend but on an intercontinental scale.
The world is a dangerous place and the trio of Talon flyers is trained to use their ultra-sophisticated weapon to stop the bad guys of the world with deadly precision. When Captain Cummings assigns E.D.I., an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), to the team, the drone’s presence is disconcerting. But, E.D.I., nicknamed Tin Man by Purcell, proves to be a pretty capable pilot until, when returning from its first mission, it is struck by lightning. The strike has unexpected affect on Tin Man and, when Cummings orders the team on a new mission, the drone takes on a life of its own. It is technology gone haywire and man versus machine. Well, not exactly.
Stealth” is a kitchen sink of fast action and CGI effects but is also light on story. The cardboard characters that make up the three musketeers of the skies are gamely, if two-dimensionally, played Lucas, Biel and Foxx. (Jamie Fox must have been involved in making “Stealth” well before his acclaim and Oscar win for “Ray.” If not, then I have to question the actor’s follow up career choice.) The actors are given routine dialogue that makes “Top Gun” seem pithy. E.D.I. has the expected HAL qualities (from “2001”) but, at least, the makers did not have it sing “Daisy” in the end.
The story, by W.D. Richter, is a mishmash that establishes E.D.I. as a loose cannon, renegade, hero figure and, if you stay through the credits, homage to Iron Giant.” (Warning: it is definitely not worth the time and effort to stay ‘til the bitter end.) It’s a bad drone, then a good drone as Tin Man and Ben join together to save Kara from the evil North Koreans. There is also a sidebar yarn that implicates Captain Cummings in some shady dealings that make little sense and is used to explain some of his stupid decisions.
Stealth” is squarely aimed at the game boy (and, because of Jessica Biel, game girl) demographic who will salivate over the Play Station version when it, inevitably, comes to the local video game stores. It hits its target audience but, for most, it is just mindless summer entertainment. It’s a good thing that I’m not the audience the makers want to attract because I give it a C+.Laura:
Cocky Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas, "Hulk," "Around the Bend") and his U.S. Navy fighter jet pilot wingmen, Kara Wade (Jessica Biel, 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Blade: Trinity") and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx, "Collateral," "Ray") are taken aback when their commanding officer, Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard, "The Notebook") tells them a fourth will be joining their highly elite squad. The next day they're introduced to EDI, a UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) with a 'brain like a Quantum sponge,' who impresses the heck out of the three fliers when their first aerial exercise turns into an emergency mission requiring their speciality - "Stealth."
While the mad scientist concept began and still continues with medical science, from 1931's Frankenstein to last week's "The Island," the genre began to also encompass technology, most notably with Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1968. Sometimes the two intermingle ("The Matrix" trilogy, for example), but director Rob Cohen ("The Fast and the Furious," "xXx") and screenwriter W.D. Richter ("Home for the Holidays") go for the basics, using "Frankenstein's" lightening bolt to give life to "2001's" HAL with wings. Ben Gannon may have a moral problem with turning war into a video game, but this film's producers have no such quibbles with their movie.
When Cummings directs his pilots to Rangoon to destroy a terrorist cell, Kara quickly calculates that too many civilians would be killed. In steps the 'Tinman' to offer a solution, a severely angled dive that would enable a missile to only take out the intended target. Cummings orders the untested EDI to perform the tricky operation, concerning his pilots. Hotshot Ben defies orders and accomplishes the difficult maneuver. On their return approach to Captain Dick Marshfield's (Joe Morton, "Ali," "Paycheck") aircraft carrier, EDI is struck by lightening and his technician, Josh (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, "Winter Solstice") tells Ben he's concerned about the state of EDI's software. Cummings sends the human pilots for some R&R in Thailand and when they return, Josh is gone and the UCAV's been cleared for flight. On their very next mission, to destroy nuclear weapons in Tajikistan, EDI defies orders, resulting in a nuclear cloud that covers a farming community and begins to draw international attention, then goes AWOL to 'proceed to other targets.' It's up to Ben and his team to thwart a worldwide crisis in the making.
"Stealth" is a big, dumb, explosive summer movie that is enjoyable on its own laughable terms. It is, however, one of the least impressive lead actor Oscar followups going for third-billed Foxx, who has little to do but foreshadow his end and twirl a basketball on his finger. He also verbalizes the romantic tension between Ben and Kara, noting that the womanizing Ben must resist the attraction or be responsible for deep-sixing the very promising career of a minority Navy officer. Blue-eyed Lucas is quite capable of "Top Gun"-style swagger and battle of the sexes banter, but Biel, who was the best thing about the ill-advised "Texas Chainsaw" remake, is even better. She radiates a teasing intelligence and convinces that she's physically and mentally capable as a Navy jet pilot. Shepard barely changes in his slip from smooth to sinister, an economical, restrained performance. Richard Roxburgh ("Children of the Revolution," "Moulin Rouge!," "Van Helsing") accentuates the cartoonish character of Keith Orbit, the Seattle-based gazillionaire software genius who created EDI.
Richter's story may be stupid (the film's denouement features the heroic funeral of a prominent character, but makes no mention of the myriad of international incidents they've all left in their wake and I won't even mention the goings-on in North Korea), but his dialogue ain't half bad. 'This ain't figure skatin' Roy - you either score or you don't,' Cummings reports to his shadowy political backer. Wade's given some pointed barbs to toss at Gannon and EDI is amusingly humanized with his illegal downloading of every musical selection on the planet (the UCAV shows Flyboy 'tude of his own, firing up a tune as he sets off on his next self-directed attack). Unfortunately, though, director of photography Dean Semler ("Dances With Wolves") cannot always complement the work of visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek ("What Dreams May Come") enough to make his work look realistic. Scenes of the pilots communicating mid-air look like actors suspended in jet pods communicating via lip reading while supposedly travelling at Mach speeds and a high altitude ejection piece is hit and miss. They score, though, with explosions that include a ring of fire at a refueling station and an Alaskan air hanger blowup that was filmed in Australia, required five hundred gallons of gasoline, and could be seen from space.
It's difficult to imagine anyone involved was taking "Stealth" seriously, and if you don't, you may be mildly amused. Less humorous is the promise of a sequel delivered by the ridiculous bit featured after the end credits, an obvious cliche not worth hanging around for.
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