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.
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.
But Stealth performs a more interesting service. It provides ample evidence of the things we desperately wish were true. Before EDI becomes the mission, the quartet of jets heads for a hit on a terrorist confab. As they near the city, their computers spit out picture-perfect confirmations of each terrorist's identity and location. If only.
Hollywood hokum? Absolutely. Pop-culture propaganda? Perhaps. Yet Stealth goes beyond feeding our popcorn proclivities. It provides glossy evidence of our unfulfilled desire to be unerringly decent in imperfect situations.
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
May 25 to May 31 Three months before his 90th birthday in 2015, Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) woke up shortly after midnight and experienced a inexplicable sense of clarity. “Suddenly, my mind started going all over the place. There were some recent memories, but also many that I thought I had long forgotten. They would appear and disappear from my brain one after another, and they were so clear, so lucid. Even the memories from 70, 80 years ago felt like they happened yesterday. I suddenly thought, if I still remember so much, why don’t I write everything down?” Despite his solid
In troubled times, people have been known to hoard currency at home — a financial security blanket against deep uncertainty. But in this crisis, things are different. This time cash itself, passed from hand to hand across neighborhoods, cities and societies just like the coronavirus, is a source of suspicion rather than reassurance. No longer a thing to be shoved mindlessly into a pocket, tucked into a worn wallet or thrown casually on a kitchen counter, money’s status has changed during the virus era — perhaps irrevocably. The pandemic has also reawakened debate about the continued viability of what has been
Green, spiky and with a strong, sweet smell, the bulky jackfruit has morphed from a backyard nuisance in India’s south coast into the meat-substitute darling of vegans and vegetarians in the West. Part of the South Asia’s diet for centuries, jackfruit was so abundant that tonnes of it went to waste every year. But now India, the world’s biggest producer of jackfruit, is capitalizing on its growing popularity as a “superfood” meat alternative — touted by chefs from San Francisco to London and Delhi for its pork-like texture when unripe. “There are a lot of inquiries from abroad... At the international level, the
The Lunar New Year vacation had just ended when Alice Wu began to worry about COVID-19. Not long after, on Feb. 10, Wu — who didn’t give her Chinese name to speak freely for this story — received the first of several coronavirus-related sales messages through her smartphone. The pitch came from an acquaintance who represents Amway, an American multi-level marketing (MLM) company that’s been active in Taiwan since 1982. “I’ve only met her once, and I’ve never bought from her. If her sister wasn’t one of my daughter’s teachers, I’d probably block her,” says Wu, who lives in Taichung. MLM, sometimes