Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx, Joe Morton, Richard Roxburgh, Sam Shepard
Written by: W.D. Richter
Directed by: Rob Cohen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense action, some violence, brief strong language and innuendo
Running Time: 121
Date: 03/18/2013
IMDB

Stealth (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hal 9000 Finds a New Day Job

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

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Stealth may be little more than a popcorn-chomping Top Gun rehash in which a pilot-less futuristic fighter jet has gone rogue, a la HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey -- but it's that little bit more that makes the movie smarter and more ambitious than it first appears.

Amid the music-video dogfight sequences (including a truly spectacular slow-motion crash and a scary pilot-eject at 35,000 feet) and gratuitous shots of requisite hottie Jessica Biel in a bikini, screenwriter W.D. Richter (Big Trouble in Little China) slips in undercurrents about the dangers of win-at-all-costs counter-terrorism and a solid search-and-rescue third act that has little to do with the crazy runaway plane.

Biel (Blade: Trinity), Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama) and Jamie Foxx (contracted to a supporting role before Ray put him on Hollywood's A-list) play hot-dogging Navy pilots who make up an elite emergency strike force in ultra-high-tech jets that fly in to blow up terrorists and stolen nuclear warheads on a moment's notice. The specifics of these incidents are often off-the-charts ridiculous, and they get even more so after the team is forced to accept the computerized plane into their ranks as an experiment. When a lightning strike turns its circuits into B-movie bunk ("EDI is war plane. EDI must have targets," it declares in a menacing monotone), the fight is on to bring the thing down.

So far, so bad. But as the plot unfurls, there's almost always something extra in its folds. Director Rob Cohen sets the stage with satellite shots showing worldwide locations, then zooms in and in and in to catch up with realistic (albeit CGI-generated) canyon-charging flight sequences jazzed up further with creative editing. He hires great actors like Sam Shepard and Joe Morton for supporting roles as the pilots' clashing commanders, one of whom knew the dangers of the rogue plane and let it fly anyway.

The script even allows for a little honest (if overly simplistic) philosophical debate about the civilian casualties and the dehumanizing effects of turning warfare into a video game...before turning hypocritical when the pilots violate two foreign countries' airspace, then shoot down their quite justified defenders.

But the movie's biggest surprise is Biel, who despite being cast for her looks and curves is credible as a fighter pilot who can hold her own against the guys and retain her femininity. Once the movie gets past her laughable obligatory romance with Lucas (the ostensible hero and a charmingly insubordinate show-off) Biel also gets the best (and most realistic) storyline when abandoned by central command after her plane is shot down over North Korea and she crashes to the ground under a burning parachute with enemy soldiers in hot pursuit.

Stealth is far more concerned with being cool than with being smart, so contrivances, plot holes and conspicuous overproduction are constantly pecking away at the movie's defendable assets. But it's the only action movie this summer entertaining enough to truly earn check-your-brain status. Like Top Gun, Stealth is a plumb guilty pleasure.

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