A film review by Craig J. Koban



2005, PG-13, 121 mins.

Lt. Ben Gannon: Josh Lucas / Lt. Kara Wade: Jessica Biel / Lt. Henry Purcell: Jamie Foxx / Capt. Cummings: Sam Shepard / Capt. Marshfield: Joe Morton / Keith Orbit: Richard Roxburgh

Directed by Rob Cohen /  Written by W.D. Richter

One thing dawned on me about the aggressive and near super human stupidity of the new action film STEALTH – if it were filmed with marionettes and models and had Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s names In the film’s credits, then I would have thought that it was one of the funniest satires of the year.  The amazing aspect about Rob Cohen’s mindless thriller is just how funny the film is all the way through, and the laughs it derives are completely unintentional.  Trust me.

The similarities between STEALTH and TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE are kind of revealing and obvious.  Both films have American war heroes that fight the good war versus the evil terrorists of the world that seem to pop up at a moments notice with some sort of nuclear arsenal that threatens world peace.  Both films have characters of such startling one dimensionality and contain every recycled action film cliché in the book.  Both contain dialogue and personal exchanges that are laughably wretched at their core.  Both try to have moments of tender human drama to flesh out their protagonists and make us care for them.   

However, there is one fundamental difference between the two films – one is a wickedly droll and hilarious satire and the other is an atypical, dime-a-dozen action film that the satire holds up to intense and stern ridicule.  Oh, the other big difference is that one of the films has a talking Stealth plane that goes cuckoo and starts disobeying its human creators while said human creators try to do everything in their power to stop it.  In case you are still stuck, the film with the talking plane is STEALTH, a film of such glorious degrees of implausibility, inanity, and sheer and unbridled idiocy that you actually can’t wait for those mind numbing and overbearing action scenes involving turbine jet engines to drown out all of the insipid dialogue that seems to have been written at the witless soap opera level.   

How badly written is this film?  Well, it has lines of dialogue of such limited poetry and lucidity, like “You came back for me” or “This computer lacks what humans have, like moral judgment and feelings” or “Dang, that’s hot”, the latter line which, unfortunately, is uttered by this year’s Academy Award winning actor, Jamie Foxx.  In the annals of horrendous career choices and follow-up film roles to one’s own Oscar wining work, I would rank Foxx’s participation in STEALTH right up there with Halle Berry’s in CATWOMAN.

I know…I know…he probably made the film during the time when he found out he was nominated, but really, step back and consider – why would you follow up that role and a series of great performances in other films with a bit part that is beneath you and your standards?  Foxx’s work here is as phoned-in as it gets, and his few minutes of screen time (he’s actually in STEALTH maybe about 25 or 30 minutes in total) signifies to me that either (a) he wanted to have as little to do with this film as possible or (b) the only way he would do the film is if he was not a huge part of it and thus did not have to go down with a sinking ship.  Either way…sorry Mr. Foxx…your limited participation here does not erode the fact that you signed on to this derivative, dull, and lifeless exercise.  Maybe the fact that he wears sunglasses through much of the film reveals his mental state.  Like a great Texas Hold ‘Em Poker player that you see on TV, he wears the shades to hide his eyes and true feelings.   

STEALTH, much like another recent stinker from 2005 – MAN OF THE HOUSE – is an embarrassment for the participants involved.  It contains some truly good actors, like the before mentioned Foxx, as well as Josh Lucas, Sam Shepherd, and Joe Morton.  It’s embarrassing because I just know that, deep down, STEALTH is a paycheck film for all of them.  I recently saw Lucas on a recent airing of THE TONIGHT SHOW and saw him talk about how “great” STEALTH is while noticing a sort of condescending glint in his eyes.  I think he knows what a bad film he signed on for, and as for the rest of the actors…maybe time will heal their wounds. 

STEALTH is a like a retarded marriage of various elements of, get this, both TOP GUN and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  It’s a film whose own modus operandi is to paint the screen with as much digital artificiality as one can stomach while providing equal amounts of dizzying camera work and a soundtrack that booms with such a maddening consistency.  This film is as loud as it is dumb. 

Yet, it is made up exactly of the key ingredients that comprise the most inept, tired, momentously awful, and lifeless summer action films – characters that are about as wooden and lifeless as the marionettes of TEAM AMERICA, horribly overwrought editing and camera shots, moronically written relationships between the characters, and a heavy preponderance of special CGI effects that seem to be the crucial facet these days of big budgeted and bloated summer fare.  It also does not help that the main leads in the film are about as interesting as ear wax.  In this case, they are played by Foxx, Lucas, and the new queen of bad cinema – Jessica Biel.  The characters and interplay are written at the level of the most unsophisticated sitcom.  It’s kind of ironic, in a way, as the evil computer in STEALTH is less artificial then the film’s plot and characters. 

The film is an incredibly dumbed down TOP GUN, if that were humanly possible.  It takes place in the “near future”, which seems a bit backwards if you ask me because films like this are the least progressive type of cinema.  Okay, in a nutshell, the film chronicles Navy fliers of the future that are a new generation to fight terror, still a global threat in the “near future”.  Also, in the “near future”, the US is still an imperialistic nation in its war of terror and feels that they need only three good men (actually, in this case, two men and one woman) to man the new generation of Stealth bombers to battle all types of mad enemies.  Hmmmm…if the war on terror was so big in the “new future”, would you not want to recruit more than three?  Are there not more than three elite pilots in the world?  Then again, as one character says, “three” is the perfect number to have because it is, after all, a prime number, which gives this person an excuse to engage in some sort of meaningless dialogue to make himself and the film sound smarter than it actually is. 

Anyways, the three pilots are Ben (Lucas), Kara (Jessica Biel, again demonstrating that she has to look good first and convincing in her role second), and Henry (Foxx).  All of these troops are aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under the command of another man with the “right stuff”, Captain George Cummings (Sam Shepard).  I remember him fondly in THE RIGHT STUFF, one of the best films of the 1980’s, and spent much of my time in STEALTH relieving my memories of watching it for the first time, perhaps in a concentrated effort to block out this film from my mind.

These three pilots seem perfectly capable of doing their job, that is until they receive the bad news that they will be joined by a “forth wingman”, of sorts.  This newbie is actually a manless Stealth bomber known as UCAV, or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle.  I would have preferred OHRO – or Obvious Hal-9000 Rip-Off, but I digress.  Well, the new “pilot” does not sit well with the other top guns.  Man, not only do they hate the fact that they may lose their jobs in the future to this unthinking and unfeeling machine, but two of them, Kara and Ben, have a strong sexual attraction to one another that they simply cannot divulge for fear of ruining their professional relationship.  Henry, of course, pleads with the hapless Ben to tell Kara “how he feels” because it’s so obvious.  The exchange of dialogue in this moment between the two made me want to contact the Academy and make them force Foxx to relinquish his Best Actor Oscar for his lack of keen judgment for taking good and insightful roles. 

Before you can say “Good Morning, Dave” the pilots are forced to prep real fast for a dangerous mission against evil terrorist cells that are about to meet in 24 minutes in Rangoon.  Hmmmm…if you were the American government and had the technology to have this type of information, would you not have acted before 24 minutes were left as a window of opportunity?  Call me crazy, I guess.  Needless to say, on route they discuss their strategy.  It seems that the meeting will be in a high rise building which is surrounded by thousands of civilians, so they talk a lot about friendly casualties and such.  Fortunately, and amazingly, the building will be empty outside of the terrorists, which is good if you want to blow it up with bombs from a Stealth.  Hmmmm…would you not want a more subtle and discreet method of taking these guys out? 

Here is where the film loses all logic and respect for the laws of gravity and physics.  It seems that the rockets on their ships do not have the necessary “penetration velocity”, and if that is not enough to make you giggle like an immature child then I don’t know what will.  So, Ben decides that the only way to achieve the necessary “penetration velocity” is to go into a vertical dive, which will increase the bombs velocity, and pull out in time.  Yup.  Sure.  Uh-huh.  He is able to pull all of this off all right and flies in so low that his plane should have been readily identified by Rangoon civilians and would subsequently create an international incident, but never mind. 

Before long, the four pilots find themselves in another jam.  It seems that lightning has struck the UCAV, which causes it to go nuts, I guess.  The PC starts thinking for itself and…well…you can probably figure out the rest for yourself.  The rest of the film's plot is spent on a mission to Tajikistan where “warlords have gotten their hands on nuclear weapons.”  Oh wait, before they go on that mission and before the UCAV goes bonkers, the three other pilots manage to get some R and R in Thailand, more or less to give Cohen an excuse to film Biel in a bikini under a waterfall.  Navy pilots always look better wet, it seems.  Well, when the pilots do go to take out the warlords, they bomb the place and then Biel radios for help for the 500,000 people that may suffer the after affects of nuclear clouds. “We have people that are going to need medical attention," she radios in to her superiors.   No other line has made me laugh as hard all year. 

At the risk of sounding like a child, I will say this quickly – STEALTH is dumb, dumb, DUMB!!!  Its first major failing is at trying to be an interesting human drama among the chaos, but it all glows of the emotional content of an episode of DAYS OF OUR LIVES.  Secondly, it tries to be a TOP GUN clone with less-than exciting results.  Thirdly, and most disastrously, it tries to be a 2001 and WARGAMES clone about artificial computer intelligence run amok.  Not only is this concept too old and tired for a contemporary film, but it also lacks the tension or thrills of those past films.  STEALTH is more interesting in showing us glossy and flashy computer visual effects and Jessica Biel’s midriff then to engage us in an intriguing plot. 

STEALTH, for all reasons considered, is so much like a live action remake of TEAM AMERICA its kind of scary.  Yet, TEAM AMERICA was a sharp, scathing, sarcastic, and smart satire.  STEALTH made me feel stupid…nah…it insulted what good intelligence I think that I possess.  It’s been a while since I have seen such a preposterously and laughably bad film where its sheer dreadfulness kind of creates a level of unintended entertainment value.  Yet, I sincerely don’t think that is what Cohen and company had in mind with STEALTH.  It’s just a shame that they had no real conscious clue that STEALTH is the malodorous embodiment of what’s wrong with indulgent, gratuitous, and boisterous summer popcorn films.  STEALTH emerges as an insult to even the most dim-witted blockbusters. 

In other words, Michael Bay would approve.

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