Fear the sky. Fear this movie.
Stealth, by the numbers:
Budget: $130 million
Box office: $30 million
Sometime in the near future, likely after Dubya declares the U.S. a military state and himself our Emperor, the U.S. steps up its fight against terrorism by building a fleet of three stealth fighters and training three exceptional pilots to destroy whatever’s necessary to stop these threats. These pilots — Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx, Held Up), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel, Summer Catch), and Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas, Thinner) — have a tight bond and work together efficiently as a team.
Then one day their commanding officer, Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard, Swordfish), announces that their team is going to grow to four. But, this won’t be any ordinary wingman. It’s a highly advanced, artificially intelligent plane that can think for itself. Having never seen 2001, The Terminator, or even Futurama, they don’t know that machines are inherently evil and will turn on you in a flat second…which is exactly what happens. The plane, dubbed EDI by its creator but called “Tin Man” by the other pilots, learns a little too well from their first mission, wherein Ben defies orders and does a bit of hotdogging to get the mission accomplished. Their next time out, Tin Man defies orders and does a bit of hotdogging to blow up a nuclear weapon cache that’s just a little too close to a village in Tajikistan (for the geographically-challenged, it’s just north of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and just east of China), then bugs out to go kill other baddies.
Which is like, totally not cool.
The three carbon-based pilots fly off in pursuit of “Tin Man.” Henry crashes (what is this, a horror movie? I thought the black guy only died first in horror movies!), and Kara has to head back to the carrier because her plane is malfunctioning. She then has to bail out…and crash lands in North Korea. That leaves Ben to go mano-y-maquina with Tin Man. He pursues him all across northern Asia as Tin Man heads to a fictional (yes, even for the movie) target in Siberia. Ben buys the plane’s trust by saving his life — by extinguishing a fire on the drone plane by dropping a bomb in a lake. The two planes then fly to Alaska (yes folks, to Alaska), where the evil Capt. Cummings has arranged for hired goons to kill Ben and destroy Roboplane. Ben takes out all the goons and flies off in Tin Man’s cockpit (which it conveniently had, though it’s an unmanned plane). The two fly off to North Korea because Ben wants to rescue Kara, who he’s bum-over-noggin in love with. Meanwhile, she’s morphed into John Rambo in tight pants, taking on the entire North Korean army with an Uzi, despite falling several thousand feet into a stand of pine and a sniper shot to the shoulder.
Can Kara make it to the border? Can Ben get there in the nick of time to save her? Can the plane learn the value of self-sacrifice? Does my insurance cover brain damage?
In my history with DVD Verdict, I’ve reviewed Airheads, Encino Man, and Cabin Boy. These movies were supposed to be stupid — that was the point. I’ve also reviewed Dragonfly, Georgia, and Valentine. These movies weren’t supposed to be stupid — it was just a side effect of lousy writing mixed with over-earnest filmmaking.
And then there’s Stealth.
It definitely falls into the latter category. Its script isn’t just stupid; it assumes that you are too. Not only that, it takes it all far too seriously, as if it buys into the ridiculousness of the yarn it spins. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Okay, first off, we’re asked to believe that jet fighters are the best way to fight terrorists. Never mind that jet fighters are best at blowing things up en masse, and terrorists are best at not congregating en masse. Then we’re asked to believe that these “stealth” fighters are really, really loud and fly around with their afterburners on all the time. The whole point of a stealth aircraft is that it’s quiet and creates a low profile — like not giving off a constant heat signature, like spewing burning jet fuel behind your aircraft would produce. And speaking of jet fuel, burning your afterburner uses a lot of fuel, yet these jets only need to refuel when it’s convenient to the story. They’re kinda like the six-shooters in the old westerns that could get off about two dozen shots before reloading…which only needed to be done when the hero absolutely needed to shoot the bad guy. These jets would do Bert Rutan proud — they can fly nearly around the world on a single tank of gas. If you tally up all the miles these planes put in, Kara would’ve had to have flown about 12,000 miles on a single tank of gas to crash-land in North Korea. Tin Man’s journey is even more improbable. Sure, he gets to refuel, but you still gotta consider that he flies across Russia, over the pole to Alaska, then from Alaska to North Korea. I don’t even want to do the numbers on that jump.
Even worse than the logical inconsistencies and outright abandonment of real-world geography are the movie’s attempts to be smarter than it is. Each of the pilots is given the chance to wax philosophical about the nature of war, about good people doing bad things to achieve good ends, that sort of thing. It’s just filler, something to pass the time and use less budget than flying and blowing shit up. They’re about as convincing as arguments in a high school civics class, and about as successful at making the movie look smart as putting glasses on a dog. Groucho glasses.
About the only reason you’d even want to bother with Stealth is for the eye candy. Sony’s DVD is impressive, with a nearly flawless 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen picture and DTS audio, which will satisfactorily rock your house. The movie is jam-packed with all the CG a $130 million budget can buy, creating aerial dogfights the like of which you’ve only seen in sci-fi flicks by a guy named Lucas. It makes the previous gold standard for earth-bound dogfights, Top Gun, look downright pedestrian. The location shooting in Thailand had me checking out ticket prices on Travelocity. There’s also fleshy eye candy for every sexual orientation. Josh Lucas and Jamie Foxx both get the chance to go shirtless, and Jessica Biel even gets the chance to show off her bikini modeling skills, which are considerable. Just why a movie about a renegade AI-powered stealth fighter needs its star in a bikini is debatable, but you won’t find me complaining.
Now here’s where I turn a corner. See, I wrote all that before watching the bonus content. Now that I have, I have a slightly different perspective. My attitude toward the movie has turned from aggressive dislike to aggressive pity.
Included on this release’s second disc is a 90-minute documentary on its making. It’s actually a pretty good feature, as these features go. I wouldn’t go so far to call it a warts-and-all look — it stops at the film’s completion, ignoring its critical disdain (it garnered a 13% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and a 4.5/10 at IMDb) and box office rejection — but it’s frank about the travails of bringing a big-budget motion picture to the screen. It took over two years to film, and made big strides in filming actors in gimbals against greenscreen to create fake yet decidedly immersive aerial photography. Watching how they brought the scenes to life is fascinating…hence the pity.
It’s obvious from watching director Rob Cohen that he puts a lot into his films. He’s a Harvard man, worked in the music industry, and turned to film directing in earnest after a heart attack in 1992. You gotta give him credit for pursuing his passion. But you can’t give him credit for being a particularly good director. When his highest rated film at IMDb is the tepid Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, it says something. Since then, he’s concentrated on big, loud, dumb action movies, like The Fast and the Furious and xXx. They’re fun, and use CG in unique ways (1996’s Dragonheart was well ahead of the digitally animated character curve), but leave you feeling like the joke’s on you if you enjoyed it. You can tell that he really wanted to make a film that showed the dark side of handing our warmongering over to machines, and that he’s proud of what they were able to bring to the screen as far as the look of the film is concerned. Why, then, not pony up a few extra bucks for a decent writer or two to make the ideas really shine? Or to pen dialogue that sounds…oh, any number of phrases could go here: authentically military. Convincingly philosophical. Reasonably intelligent. Getting decent actors is half the battle; putting good words into their mouths is the other. And, of course, there’s the other problem with the script: the ridiculous, suspension-of-disbelief stretching, lack of attention to real-world geography and physics. A good writer would keep these problems out of the script, or at least make them the elephant in the corner of the room rather than a rampaging one making a mess of it.
Given a better script, I probably would’ve loved Stealth, but it’s more like a high school linebacker trying to take the SAT after an all-night kegger. Stay far, far away from Stealth, unless of course you yourself are a high school linebacker finding your way to your DVD player after an all-night kegger.