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Dustin Putman


Dustin's Review

Stealth (2005)
2 Stars

Directed by Rob Cohen
Cast: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx, Sam Shepard, Richard Roxburgh, Joe Morton, Ian Bliss, Ebon-Moss Bachrach
2005 – 121 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, brief strong language and innuendo).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 22, 2005.

"Stealth," a hyperactively filmed, explosion-filled action bonanza, follows in the footsteps of 2002's "XXX" and 2001's "The Fast and the Furious" of being equal parts dumb and diverting. That all three were directed by Rob Cohen is no coincidence; there is no doubt that he knows how to set up spectacular stunts and pyrotechnics, just as there has been no sign in any of them that there have been brain cells involved in the process of writing the script. The question to be asked is whether Cohen himself realizes this. He treats the plainly stupid plotting and one-dimensional characters found in "Stealth" with such an earnest sincerity that there are times when audience snickering is impossible to contain. Just as one is about to throw up their hands in defeat, however, a gigantic action setpiece arrives boasting such rousing showmanship that the viewer hangs in a little longer. It's as fun as it is instantly forgettable.

Three ace pilots and comrades—Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx)—are handpicked by Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard) to head a top-secret military program he has masterminded. Their mission: to perform runs alongside an artificial intelligence aircraft that, if it works, could mean the end of human military casualties in the sky. Once out there working with the new program, the trio begin to suspect the invention may be too advanced for its own good, quickly growing a mind of its own and set on rebelling. If Ben, Kara and Henry are unable to stop its path of destruction, it could potentially mean the start of a new world war.

As written by W.D. Richter, whose unlikely last screenwriting credit was for 1995's astute slice-of-life dramedy "Home for the Holidays," "Stealth" is close to complete nonsense. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and what sense it does make is on a naive elementary level. Director Rob Cohen embraces the tried-and-true cliches found in nearly all commercial action pictures—the mile-a-minute editing, the ear-piercingly loud sound effects, the slow-motion shots of the heroes proudly walking in a line toward the camera, the stunts that no human being could ever plausibly survive, the inescapable romantic subplot—with such unashamed vigor that it's almost like he doesn't realize how over-the-top and self-mocking the whole thing comes off.

The film's to-the-letter conventions aspire random laughs and eye-rolls. The aforementioned slow-motion walk, for example, is something that should never be used again in the future of cinema, and a climactic sequence is scored with such bombastically melancholy music—as if yearning to be the next "Titanic"—that it is equal parts ridiculous, cringe-inducing, and hilarious. The sentimental scene following this taking place on an aircraft carrier almost equals it in pure sappiness.

Luckily, director Rob Cohen's eager-to-please candor evens out a lot of the movie's misgivings. Yes, he is a filmmaker studied in idiocy, but there is a style and technically grand know-how found in all of his fast-paced popcorn munchers that raises it above unforgivable tripe like 2005's Cohen-less "XXX: State of the Union" and "Fantastic Four." Some shots, with the camera tilting and swirling and panning, and others, such as a scene that takes place between two characters behind a sheet, their profiles in silhouette, would make Brian DePalma either proud or screaming copyright infringement. Meanwhile, a few of the aerial sequences are, indeed, show-stopping, despite the obvious computer-generated effects used to bring them to life. One in particular, in which Kara ejects herself from a malfunctioning aircraft and must dodge the fiery debris while free-falling is especially great for the sole purpose of an adrenaline rush.

As friends, partners, and would-be lovers Ben Gannon and Kara Wade, Josh Lucas (2004's "Undertow") and Jessica Biel (2004's "Blade: Trinity") are convincing when they don't just appear to be playing dress-up, but tend to get lost in a script that gives them the barest of singular identities. Still, they're skilled performers, and make the best of a restrictive situation. As for Jamie Foxx (2004's "Ray") as ladies man Henry Purcell, this could be one of the biggest step downs in memory for a performance and role following an Academy Award win. Watching him mug for the camera in the most unctuous of ways is painful, and gone are any signs of the charisma and dramatic range he showed in "Ray" and 2004's "Collateral." Fortunately, Foxx's screen time is minimal compared to his two superior co-stars.

Improving significantly in the second half by default of a lot of gunfire and explosions after an aimless first hour that goes nowhere, "Stealth" will please non-discriminating action hounds while leaving everyone else in search of a little meat unfulfilled. There are plot holes to spare—countless killings occur against another country without consequence, and it is never clarified in any satisfactory way what human adversary Capt. George Cummings hopes to gain by his erratic behavior—and the basic storytelling is on the clunky side. Furthermore, the entire enterprise is rather dopey if one stops to think about it for a second. As a brainless military actioner, though, "Stealth" does its job efficiently, although not quite enough to pass with a recommendation. It is what it is, but what it is could have been so much more.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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