With Stealth, director Rob Cohen teeters dangerously close to becoming the next Michael Bay, a filmmaker widely known for films like Bad Boys II and Armageddon that disregard comprehensible storylines and action in favor of widespread explosions and mayhem. Cohen says Stealth is his attempt to create "an intense experience in the air," like the drag racing in his The Fast and The Furious or the snowboarding-ahead-of-an-avalanche sequence in XXX.

Cohen's previous two films sparked revulsion and enthusiasm among audiences, who primarily latched on to them because of Vin Diesel's rising star power. He's not here to save the day this time. Instead we have up-and-coming hunk Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), Seventh Heaven babe Jessica Biel (Blade: Trinity), and Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral) as the heroic fighter pilots central to the film. Alas, their combined star power isn't enough to save this poor and laughable attempt at a summer blockbuster.

Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, and Josh Lucas have the, er, wrong stuff in this clunker

Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, and Josh Lucas have the, er, wrong stuff in this clunker

The greatest flaw with Stealth—and there are many—is that it doesn't stay true to its premise. You might surmise from the trailers that this film is Top Gun meets The Ballad of John Henry as told by sci-fi author Michael Crichton. Lieutenants Gannon (Lucas), Wade (Biel), and Purcell (Foxx) are an elite team of ace fighter pilots chosen to test fly a new series of stealth fighter jets called Talons. This being the "near future," we're talking about aircraft capable of entering enemy space undetected, executing precision attacks, and then high-tailing back to base before you can say, "I have no knowledge of that mission."

The film goes great lengths to show the talent and camaraderie of this team, so naturally they're reluctant when commanding officer Captain Cummings (Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff) adds a fourth "member" to their ranks. This is no ordinary wingman, but rather a prototype artificial intelligence powered UCAV (unarmed combat aerial vehicle), nicknamed Extreme Deep Invader (or EDI, pronounced "Eddie") and given the call sign Tin Man. The idea of course is to further dehumanize war by removing the pilot from the equation, allowing computer controlled stealth operations. However, this idea isn't explored nearly enough in this movie, which apparently put more effort into naming the computerized jet.

The pilots are assigned to a carrier in the Indian Ocean to integrate the newest member of the team and teach it combat maneuvers. And of course, an important crisis conveniently arises, requiring all four pilots to take out a terrorist group in Thailand. The mission is a (far-fetched) success, but upon returning to the USS Lincoln, EDI is struck by lightning in a thunderstorm. Now this is either ridiculously improbable, or else you'd think the U.S. government would have ensured that their prototype could handle such conditions. But that's too much logical thinking for a movie like this …

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Lt. Wade (Biel) preps for one of their missions

Lt. Wade (Biel) preps for one of their missions

Despite technical diagnoses indicating massive alterations to EDI's brain, and reservations from everyone else on the Lincoln, Captain Cummings carelessly allows EDI to participate in the next mission. Sure enough, EDI disobeys a direct order from its wingmen, endangering the lives of innocents while taking out a terrorist stronghold. The plane goes renegade, and it's up to the young pilots to stop EDI from causing a global catastrophe.

If you're like me, you can forgive a film for some of its silly and contrived plot points if it still yields an exciting action thriller. Such is not the case here, apparent as soon as Cummings gives orders to "bring my plane back undamaged," rather than have it blown from the sky immediately. This forces our heroes, masters of piloting and destruction, to instead fly up alongside EDI and reason with it to head home. "Purcell to EDI, disengage your weapons and return to base!" "EDI to Lt. Purcell, leave me alone." It obviously isn't long before the pilots are given permission to shoot down the aircraft. And yes indeed, EDI's voice clearly resembles the soothing tones of the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There's something to be said for efforts to take a plot in unexpected directions, but not if they're hokey and stupid. Not too far into the movie, Wade's fighter is damaged and she's forced to eject over North Korea, leading to an even more terrible version of Behind Enemy Lines as she unconvincingly fumbles her way to South Korea with troops hot on her trail. Gannon meanwhile forges an understanding with EDI, uncovering a government conspiracy while staging a reckless rescue attempt in North Korea.

Lt. Gannon (Lucas) and Capt. Cummings (Sam Shepard) discuss EDI

Lt. Gannon (Lucas) and Capt. Cummings (Sam Shepard) discuss EDI

For a movie about state-of-the-art aircraft, it might surprise action fans to learn that not one of these stealth fighters is destroyed by enemy aircraft fire. Aside from one dogfight in which Gannon and EDI implausibly team up to take out some Russian MIGs, the movie relies entirely on impossible/idiotic aerial maneuvers for the key action scenes. EDI in particular does for fighter jets what Neo did for kung fu in The Matrix—without having to consider man's physical limitations, a computer-controlled aircraft can apparently also defy the laws of physics. Still, this movie earns its single star for some oft-impressive CGI effects and camera angles that show off what these fighters are more than capable of.

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Bad acting and dialogue also keep these characters from becoming engaging or believable. Despite advertising that suggests he's the main character, Foxx bails out early on. It's just as well since his part draws from every African American cinematic stereotype, depending on the scene—he's the comedic relief, the incomprehensible techno geek, the smooth talking playah at the bar, the sensitive philosophizer the morning after, and the guy who researches technology while dancing to loud hip-hop in his basketball shoes. Foxx probably finished this film before Collateral and Ray turned him into a star; consider this movie strike one.

Meanwhile, Lucas is stuck with a flat character, failing to make a strong impression as the male lead. Biel is even less convincing as the tomboy love interest seemingly unable to find romance. After exploiting her chest size in dialogue and a gratuitous bikini scene, she gives a laughably bad performance beginning with her unintentionally funny skydive amid flaming debris, narrating her perils like Will Ferrell's character in Austin Powers.

Some of the aerial action is pretty cool, if mostly implausible

Some of the aerial action is pretty cool, if mostly implausible

Most disappointing is the usually capable Sam Shepard, whose misguided Captain Cummings is simply too unbelievable in pushing his own agenda ahead of his country's. There's another unintentionally funny scene in which he tells a fellow officer that he's taken every precaution with EDI, when it's perfectly clear that he's thrown all caution to the wind throughout the film.

Instead of the action, there's more fun to be had in Stealth counting the number of international incidents caused by the events of this movie (and overlooked)—an aerial fuel station is destroyed at one point, causing an explosion seen from space that dwarfs Hiroshima. Or the number of times soldiers choose to ignore orders while following their own ideals; the film doesn't have much respect for the military's chain of command, and there's even a shadowy White House aide who looks suspiciously like Donald Rumsfeld. Or the billions of wasted dollars that go up in flames, including a bomb used to put out a fire—your tax money at work.

Suffice to say, this is yet another perfect example of a bad Hollywood blockbuster, incapable of offering a sensible script or a well-staged action sequence. Neither entertaining nor exciting, the dumb and noisy Stealth will hopefully live up to its name by fading quietly from movie theaters.

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Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What sets man apart from other animals (or machines for that matter)? How do we define intelligence? What makes us superior to artificial intelligence? In what ways are we inferior?

  2. Many of this film's protagonists choose to disobey orders to do what they believe is right? Were they justified in these examples? When should we submit to authority and when should we follow our own ideals?

  3. Do you feel this was a realistic portrayal of the military? In your opinion, does this movie accurately depict the American government in matters of national security?

  4. Explain EDI's actions at the end of the movie. What do you think led to its decision?

  5. Do you believe warfare (and society) is continuing to dehumanize? What are the pros and cons of this?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Though most of the action relies on plentiful explosions, Stealth is appropriately rated PG-13 for intense action when people are shot on the ground. The language is plentiful, including obscene gestures and taking the Lord's name in vain. In addition to some sexual innuendo, Jessica Biel's chest size is also exploited in both dialogue and a gratuitous bikini scene.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Peter T. Chattaway
from Film Forum, 08/04/05

Are moviegoers tired of noisy, bombastic, overblown action movies? Especially those that rip off lots of other films while pretending to have something to say about the direction our technology is taking us? Could be.

Last week, the bioethics thriller The Island became the most recent of the half-dozen films directed by Michael Bay (Armageddon, Bad Boys) to flop at the box office. And this week, Stealth—a movie directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, XXX), about a military plane that gets hit by lightning, starts thinking for itself, and becomes a bigger threat than the terrorists it's supposed to be killing—crashed and burned at theatres, too.

Critics seem to agree that the film—which shamelessly cribs elements of War Games, Colossus: The Forbin Project, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Short Circuit, with an unexpected side trip into Behind Enemy Lines territory—is more artificial than intelligent.

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David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says the film is so busy it's boring: "Part of Einstein's theory of relativity states that the faster an object moves the more time slows down. Want proof? Go see Stealth (Columbia), a high-speed but vacuous exercise in adrenalin overdrive that packs a lot of G-force, as in 'Gee, when is this film going to be over?'" He adds that the movie "makes you pine for the emotional subtlety and character depth of a Jerry Bruckheimer film … Like EDI's cockpit, Stealth is empty."

Jeffrey Huston (Crosswalk) says the film fails even on its own superficial terms: "Visually it's horrible; the ships are poorly designed, the flight action is obviously fake … and only one shot (a mid-air ring of fire) makes you think 'wow.' Director Rob Cohen was so busy trying to make his aerial sequences look impressive that he forgot to make them feel authentic … The film's only boast is that it's loud, thus making it stealth in name only. But hey—at least when the robot jet goes renegade it cranks hard-driving rock tunes as it unleashes its heartless destruction. Sure it may be evil, but man, its iPod playlists are the coolest!"

Mainstream critics seem divided into two camps: those who think it's so bad it's good, and those who think it's so bad it's bad.

from Film Forum, 08/11/05

Andrew Coffin (World) says, "Stealth is set in 'the very near future,' which gives [director Rob] Cohen freedom to kick technology up a few notches too high and to completely disregard geographic, physical, and political realities. The lazy script provides lots of 'convenient' opportunities for cheese (a painfully unironic discussion of war reduced to the level of a video game) and sleaze (some skimpily clad R&R in Thailand)."

Our Rating
1 Star - Weak
Average Rating
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Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for intense action, some violence, brief strong language, and innuendo)
Directed By
M.F. Bernier
Run Time
19 minutes
Alexandra Billings, Sarah Bruno, Anton Burman
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