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Behind Enemy Lines

Starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman; Joaquim De Almeida, David Keith, Olek Krupa
Screenplay by David Veloz and Zak Penn; story by James Thomas & John Thomas
Directed by John Moore

IN SHORT: A big budget popcorn flick... which left us cold. [Rated PG-13 for war violence and some language. minutes]

Anyone who has read the international news anytime in the last five years or, has watched any one of the network evening news half hours in that similar time, raise your hand. Y'all have just completed lesson one of Cranky's Easy Guide to Making Movies. That lesson reads: "If a major story point depends on something that is already historically established and of recent knowledge, you may as well shoot yourself in the foot if you try to pass it off as something new and vital.

A better place to start is with the question "Does it really matter that a movie's story is weak as long as the pictures make you go "ooo" often enough?"

If we were fourteen and still immersed in general Social Studies classes the answer would probably be "yes". But we're not and we know more than enough about what happened in the European area formerly known as Yugoslavia to slaver over Behind Enemy Lines. We don't know if labeling the film as set in 1994 (or so) would have made its final scene any less ridiculous 'cuz by that time we had already started to squirm in our seat, thinking "a video director made this." We were wrong about John Moore's credits. He was a television commercial director. There's not a big difference when it comes to these first-timers. They all seem to concentrate on, and then deliver, spectacular individual scenes at the expense of character and story development. In this case, we really didn't give a damn about the main character by the time the action gets hairy (which is why we recommend you buy the big popcorn. The action sequences are great. If that's all you want, you'll be fine with this movie).

Navy fighter pilot Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson, click for StarTalk) is as dumb as he is arrogant. He mouths off to commanding officer Admiral Leslie Riegart (Gene Hackman) about his assignments, and, as punishment, gets the worst one of all. Riegart assigns Burnett and pilot Jeremy Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) a reconnaissance mission over demilitarized Bosnia-Herzegovinia on Christmas day. No weapons sites to scope out. No turkey with all the fixings. The stupidity part comes in when Burnett convinces his co-pilot to stray off their assigned path into Serbian controlled territory. There isn't supposed to be "anything" in that part of the country but there, is and it shoots back.

Why that "nothing" shoots back, and what the Serbs are trying to hide is something that's been public knowledge for years. We won't spill, just in case, and move on to the rest of the movie, in which Burnett is hunted down by an assassin (Olek Krupa) and NATO tries to stop Riegart from mounting a rescue. The politics of the film didn't move us, which leaves an elaborately filmed story of "run rabbit run" which shifts from woods to the city, sometimes at random.

Producer John Davis tells us, in the press notes, that he didn't want a film that was more than just action and pyrotechnics. Well, by the time the pyrotechnics started, we hadn't developed any connection to the characters. Or maybe it's just that realistic military men aren't all that interesting. Director Moore has busied himself conceiving visual marvels that are, at times, marvelous. It sure would have been nice if he had read the script closely. Doing so would have ensured the absence of dumb mistakes like this...

Burnett still has radio contact with his carrier and is told by the Admiral to go to Point A for pickup. He does and radios in that he is at Point A. Admiral then tells him to wait so they can triangulate his position.

Get a dictionary. Look up the word "triangulate". Next time avoid dumb mistakes. We know it's a dumb mistake because this "triangulation" is an excuse for some visual fireworks and effects involving a satellite and digital images which are very impressive. This, added to a spectacularly choreographed battle between a fighter plane and a pair of heat seeking missiles, and another involving landmines, yield enough interesting visual stuff to keep you awake. But that's all Behind Enemy Lines is -- a visually impressive movie whose story can be summed up as 'A shot-down Navy pilot runs like hell from enemy hunters, pending a rescue that redefines the notion of explosive overkill.' That's not a bad thing. It is, as far as popcorn movies go, worthy of the super-Godzilla sized tub.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Behind Enemy Lines, he would have paid . . .


We didn't get a helluva lot of time to get interested in the characters, all of whom are written by the book. We've seen 'em before and we weren't any more interested in doing so again. The emphasis is on the flash.

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