More noise than signal

Stealth

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

The old saying in Hollywood, I’m told, is that you’re only as good as your last movie. We’re a little more generous than that round theOneliner Towers, so let’s go with the last three. Jamie Foxx gets to add Ray and Collateral to Stealth, so I think we’ll have to let him away with that. Jessica Biel – Cellular and Blade Trinity. Hmmm. Josh Lucas could turn in Oscar nominated performances for the next decade and still be working off the colossal albatross that was Sweet Home Alabama, of which we’ve agreed not to speak of ever again. Director Rob Cohen – The Fast and the Furious (Hmmm), xXx (Oh dear.). I’m not altogether sure where I’m going with this, apart from to say that our expectations for Stealth weren’t particularly high, admittedly established less from the above reasoning and more from perhaps the worst trailer of the year so far. Low expectations sometimes work in a movies favour. This is not one of those times.

Stealth teaches us that the appropriate way to combat international terrorism is not, as you may have thought, rigorous counter-intelligence operations and perhaps not needlessly pissing off other cultures in the first place, but to build really nice, whizzbang planes, thereby responding to this radically new threat with the same measures we always do. That’ll fool ’em! Driving these planes, or piloting them are the pilots Ben Gannon (Lucas), (Biel) and (Foxx). After blowing up a Nevadan cave full of terrorist mannequins they’re shipped off by their C.O Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard) to Capt. Dick Marshfield (Joe Morton)’s carrier, the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln. They’re joined by a new wingman, who happens not to be a man. Nor a woman. And, by a process of elimination, we deduce that it’s a hermaphrodite.

Aha! Finally the element of surprise is ours. What? It’s just a computer? Aww, does that mean it’s going to get hit by lightning on the first mission, develop a rouge sentience, go maverick, disobey orders, endanger civilian life (I believe ‘inappropriate collateral damage’ is the accepted military term) and generally be something of a tit? Of course it does, you big silly.

Stealth marks one of the rare occasions where the parody of the film appears substantially earlier than the film, because this movie seems in large part to be a live action Team America: World Police. Before people start crying hypocrite for defending Madagascar and Herbie: Fully Loaded on the basis of being kids’ films and only kids’ films, but knocking Stealth for being a big dumb action movie and only a big dumb action movie, let me say this – the other flicks succeeded in what they were looking to achieve. Stealth doesn’t, as it’s about as much fun as transdental electromacide. It’s too big, and it’s certainly too dumb.

It’s not just the overarching stupidity of the central concept that’s offensive, it’s that Cohen and scrivener W.D. Richter keep piling other, minor stupidities on top of them and still expect us to swallow it up. I’m no military ordnance expert but given the relative cosiness of a combat aircraft cockpit I doubt the standard issue sidearm is a submachine gun, but that’s precisely what Wade pulls out of her butt after being forced to bale out in North Korea. I might even have let that one slide, if it were actually some weapon that actually existed outside of Aliens, but given the clip capacity and ranged accuracy I can only conclude that Heckler & Koch have been ousted in favour of a Weyland-Yutani pulse rifle. Why do none of the missiles have any explosives, just combustive material? I’ll buy the fuel/air mixture bomb (sounds so much nicer than ‘napalm’ doesn’t it?) as used against ground troops, but the ‘daisy-cutter’-like missiles they use on a few occasions just can’t produce that amount of fire, unless the mountain happens to be built out of petrol.

None of this usually bothers me, certainly not if the film’s any fun at all. Stealth isn’t fun. It’s vast amounts of non-fun stretched to a painfully overlong two hours. At some point in the creative process you have to think about restraint. Crossing Top Gun with 2001 isn’t necessarily the start of the path to destruction, but when you’re also stealing substantial chunks from Behind Enemy Lines, Firefox and, well, any number of 80’s combat ops films such as the venerable Delta Force franchise you might want to start thinking about reining it in a little, otherwise it stands a very good chance of sprawling into a messy, ill-defined heap.

The CGI effects are pretty far away from the cutting edge, the copious and frequent CG fireballs on a par with the Alien Skin Fire Photoshop plug-in circa 1997. The weird looking planes don’t look particularly convincing either as believable ordnance delivery vectors or during their interaction with anything else, CG or otherwise. As such it’s never even close to exciting, and as that’s the only reason that something like Stealth would ever be worth the price of admission. You’re certainly not here for the acting and characterisation.

I can’t really bring myself to blame the actors too much. If you have only the barest, barely written cliche of a character to begin with there’s not a lot of point turd-polishing. Foxx at least has the good sense to look embarrassed to be here. Lucas and Biel trudge through the obligatory romance sub-plot with a resigned nonchalance and absence of chemistry. Shephard looks as puzzled as we do as to why he’s playing so fast and loose with military procedure with no hint of why it’s so desperately important that this CompuPlane be in the air so soon after getting fried, nor why he’s selling out his own crew and friends for, well, no possible gain at all. It’s all sloppily rushed through so Cohen can lapse into another fiery CG coma, perhaps marking him as the true successor to George Lucas.

Bleh. I shall waste no more words on this; you can’t have been expecting this to be any good at all and I think I’ve adequately discharged my duties in confirming that it isn’t. I’ve other pinatas to break, and smacking this one turned out to be as little fun as watching it was. C’est la vie.

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