, Hollywood's latest virtual movie, features impressive action sequences -- all created through technology -- a thin story, cardboard characters and snicker-inducing dialogue. The film thus follows the inevitable equation: The greater the reliance on technology, the less human and therefore the less engaging the story.Stealth
, directed by XXX
's Rob Cohen, targets the young male audience with a full payload of high-octane action, macho posturing, impressive military hardware and an old-fashioned cheesecake. This is a reliable demographic for a solid opening weekend. The real question is the film's staying power for the second weekend. Here the Columbia release might be vulnerable.
Funnily enough, the problem with the movie -- that it's a virtual movie with only cursory human interaction -- also is its subject: For the U.S. Navy of the "near future" is looking to replace human pilots with artificial intelligence-based drones.
As the movie gets under way, only three Navy pilots are excellent enough to fly its latest stealth fighter jet: Ben (Josh Lucas
), Kara (Jessica Biel
) and Henry (Jamie Foxx
). Their commanding officer, Capt. Cummings (Sam Shepard
), seemingly without any military superior of his own, has enough juice to ram through Congress and the Pentagon a pilotless aircraft that he insists will be the "new wingman" for our Terrific Trio.
The thing is called an Extreme Deep Invader or EDI, which everyone pronounces as Eddy when they are not calling the plane Tin Man. It does have a male voice, not unlike HAL's in 2001: A Space Odyssey
, so you know what Ben means when he says, "I've got a bad feeling about that plane."
Rushed into action ahead of schedule, the drone watches -- and learns -- when Ben overrides his commander's orders and successfully destroys a target swarming with terrorists in downtown Rangoon without any collateral damage. (You do believe that, don't you?) Returning to the aircraft carrier, Eddy gets hit by lightning, goes haywire, nearly crashes, arrives in sick bay in bad shape -- and Capt. Cummings immediately clears him for duty.
(Essentially, Shepard is reprieving his Black Hawk Down
role of the commander who receives bad news in a remote operation center, only this time with the sinister overlay. It seems that a rogue element within the military-industrial complex is determined to promote the invention of a wacky scientist with the James Bondian name of Dr. Orbit.)
Before Eddy returns to action, however, the movie indulges in a Thai Swimsuit Special, where the pilots repair to Thailand to strip down to beachwear so audiences can admire the buff bodies of Lucas and Biel. You also learn that the two pilots have developed romantic feelings for each other.
Back in clothes, the pilots fly off to a mission near the Pakistani border, where Eddy goes bananas. Having learned from Ben that orders are a sometime thing, Eddy ignores a command and creates a potential nuclear disaster. Then Eddy decides to continue the Joy Ride
up to Siberia to launch World War III.
The nonstop action from this point does yield exciting dogfights and aerial gymnastics. The film marries two different technologies, namely Tergen (for terrain generator), developed by Digital Domain, which can create virtual backgrounds; and a special gimbal, a device that allows the mock jets to incline at different angles in all directions.
There also is an intriguing second-act twist in W.D. Richter's screenplay, in which Ben engages Eddy in a midair conference and talks him over to the side of the good guys. More excitement is then generated by Eddy and Ben's rescue of Kara, who has ejected over North Korea.
The movie never really establishes any compelling reason for the Navy to want to remove pilots from combat, and the illogic compounds itself from that point. The movie does deliver the video game goods but strands its characters in a no-man's-land of crude characterizations and silly dialogue.
The actors can do little to elevate these roles. Lucas displays bravery and guile, Biel resiliency and a sweet smile, while Foxx has the misfortunate to follow a truly great acting year with a role that numbs his usual exuberance.
Technical credits are where the real action is, especially the sleek design of the hypersonic fighters and cinematographer Dean Semler
's excellent blending of the virtual movie with locations in Australia, Thailand and New Zealand.
An Original Film/Phoenix Pictures/Laura Ziskin production
Director: Rob Cohen
Screenwriter: W.D. Richter
Producers: Laura Ziskin
, Mike Medavoy
, Neal H. Moritz
Executive producers: E. Bennett Walsh, Arnold W. Messer
Director of photography: Dean Semler
Production designer: J. Michael Riva
, Jonathan Lee
Costumes: Lizzy Gardiner
Editor: Stephen Rivkin
Ben: Josh Lucas
Kara: Jessica Biel
Henry: Jamie Foxx
Capt. Cummings: Sam Shepard
Keith Orbit: Richard Foxburgh
Capt. Marshfield: Joe Morton
MPAA rating: PG-13
Running time -- 121 minutes