Thursday, June 12, 2008

Stealth and the Fun of Responsible Bombing (2005)


If you are comfortable with a movie that treats military bombing like the street racing of Fast and Furious, also directed by Rob Cohen, then you can enjoy Stealth and the speed of flying around in a computer-generated image of a jet. If you are unfamiliar with Top Gun, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Dr. Strangelove, then you could enjoy the various plot points writer W. D. Richter obviously lifted from those movies. I found Stealth extravagantly bad, almost enjoyably so, but it can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth if one acknowledges the complexities of US military involvemet in other countries.

Stealth concerns itself with explosions, mostly, but there are three jet pilots too: Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), the stereotypical hotshot risk-taking fighter, Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx), the African American sidekick who looks out of place now that Foxx has starred in the far superior Ray and Collateral, and Kara Wade (Jessica Biel), who mostly just looks good in a bikini. All three pilots are way superior to any other pilots because they know how to fly super fancy new jets. Their leader, Captain George Cummings, tends to rub his buzz cut in moments of anxiety back on the carrier. He is played by Sam Shepard, noted playwright, who has clearly decided to trade in his reputation for playing Chuck Yeager back in The Right Stuff for some easy summer-movie cash. The three pilots spend a surprising amount of time on R and R at first, perhaps to build up characterization. They go to Thailand to see some decorative Buddhists. Jamie Foxx wanders around exulting in the beauty of the country to some Thai model, who, significantly, does not understand a word he’s saying. He points out that the world looks different down below when one is not bombing targets.

Eventually, Captain Cummings springs on them an intelligent fourth turbo jet nicknamed Eddie, or Tin Man, which does not need a pilot. Eddie arrives somewhat like Batman in the night just when Ben describes the evening as “dark and mysterious,” in case we didn’t get it. The three pilots and Tin Man fly a small experimental mission to one of those little countries whose name you can’t pronounce, Tajikistan, to deal with some terrorists. Once there, Tin Man gets resentful of their squadron leader, Ben’s decision to dive bomb into the city and blow up a building with minimal collateral damage. He blacks out briefly while flying at light speed through a city street just to wake up just in time to pull out of there and survive. Soon after, due to a lightning strike, Tin Man goes insane, not to mention petulant, and so it (he) takes off to bomb some target in Russia, so our fearless threesome has to bring him (it) home or shoot him down.

After that, there are a lot of plot developments—one involving a programmer named Orbit back in Seattle who reminded me of Stephen Spielberg, one involving a MIA in North Korea, and another involving a military cover up. A bunch of little people in some foreign country suffer some nuclear dusting, but that is hard to care much about amidst all of the gee-whiz love of military gadgetry. I liked one scene where a jet blows open the large door of a hangar so that both trucks and bad guys fly up in the night air. I could hear some guy in the back of the theatre yelling out “YEAH!” every time a target was hit, just as if the pilot had scored a first down. At one point, Ben and Captain Cummings have an argument about the ethics of allowing machines to do our fighting for us. Ben says, “War just becomes a videogame!” I admire his conviction, but it is pure hypocrisy in the context of this movie. Bombing can be great fun up in the pilot’s cockpit. Now they need to make a film from the point of view of the collateral damage.

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