Fri, Jul 29, 2005 - Page 16 News List

The guilty pleasure of a good action movie

What man wouldn't want to join up after watching the colorful parade of military toys and uniforms in `Stealth'?

By Lisa kenneday  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , DENVER

Can a guilty pleasure wrestle with its own sense of guilt and still entertain?

If it's Stealth -- this week's contender for the summer's action-flick championship belt -- the answer turns out to be a jet roar of a "yes."

Adrenaline-hustler Rob Cohen and writer W.D. Richter pepper their exuberant celebration of speed, military hardware and the sexy heat of guys (and a gal) in uniform with timely instances of ambivalence and ambiguity.

Sure, they lean heavily on the story of an artificially intelligent fighter jet run amok to pose the harder questions. But when it comes to warfare, technology's promises and failings are part of the picture.

The movie begins with the Navy's three best test pilots -- Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Henry Purcell (a pre-Oscar Jamie Foxx) -- learning their commander has recruited a fourth wingman. Only this one isn't sporting a nickname like "Goose" or "Iceman." EDI's a quantum-processing Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle. A top-secret prototype with a conscience of chip code and wires, EDI was created by a Seattle-based brainiac with the unlikely name of Keith Orbit (Richard Roxburgh).

On EDI's first run, championed by Captain George Cummings (Sam Shepard), the stealth pilot performs admirably. But when "he's" rattled by a jolt of lightning on the way back to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, his AI mind gets blown.

Cummings' pushes EDI back online and into a mission, over the qualms of a computer programmer and the aircraft carrier's commander (Joe Morton). But that bolt has got EDI thinking like a maverick.

"Casting, casting, casting" could be the power mantra of Stealth. In addition to the three appealing leads, Shepard brings understated finesse to Cummings.

Film Notes:

Stealth

Directed by: Rob Cohen

Starring: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx, Sam Shepard, Joe Morton, Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Richard Roxburgh

Running time: 106 minutes

Taiwan Release: yesterday


He could easily have collapsed into a full-on baddie. Shepard takes him to his dark places with an unabated steadiness usually reserved for the flawed protagonists of Greek tragedies.

Trailers for Stealth threatened a juiced Top Gun wannabe. Bigger, badder FX; same flyboy antics. But Stealth proves the child of Top Gun had to grow up faster than Daddy.

The world feels much hotter than it did in 1986, when the Cold War was cooling and Maverick's need for speed was its own raison d'etre.

Stealth intentionally mixes mildly heady (c'mon it's summer) dialogue about the philosophies of war with chilly military euphemisms like "tasking" and "prosecuting targets."

When Biel's character calculates what the collateral damage of a mission might be, there's a reason. Three reasons, actually: Gulf Wars 1 and 2, plus Afghanistan. When EDI goes ballistic the first time, her calculations prove miserably true.

If Cummings stands as the military's honorable but dangerous past, Wade turns out to be its conscientious future.

There's a simmer between Wade and Gannon. And one scene between the two gives Gannon's hound-dog side a back story. But Stealth never weighs its characters down with deep backgrounds. It's as if the world has become too urgent a place for Top Gun's Oedipal dramas. Here the love story is more a yearning tale, albeit one with a coarse but great last line.

At times Stealth feels like a feature-length recruiting film. What teen wouldn't want to join up after watching the threesome toast each other in a sleek bar, their white uniforms gleaming, their martinis just as crisp, their loyalty to each other undeniable.

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