Many an action movie can be fairly accused of letting its effects outdo its characters. Rarely has there been a film where a character made out of a visual effect actually outdoes its acting counterparts - and that includes a recent Oscar winner. EDIE, a HAL-esque talking computer built inside a superjet has one hell of a character arc in "Stealth", the latest in a long line of those big, dumb and loud Summer blockbusters we thought we had left behind back in the 90's. In one film this mechanical smooth talker moves from having no personality to turning evil, to becoming good again and finally making a self sacrifice worthy of Jesus. Actors often bitch about how their roles lack arcs, now we see those roles are seriously going to the boys in the effects houses.
That's not to say its a good performance no sir, EDIE's robotic acting rivals that of other mindless silicon productions like Jar Jar Binks or Tara Reid. Yet it manages to outshine the human components of "Stealth" which in all seriousness is one of the better PS2 games of the year simply blown up on the big screen. Played like a cross between the moderately enjoyable Clint Eastwood flick "Firefox" and the horrendously awful Owen Wilson starrer "Behind Enemy Lines", "Stealth" ends up being decidedly bad-average on the entertainment scale pf film. The visual effects are admittedly impressive, the jet flying scenes do look cool and there's big explosions to keep the kids happy whilst teen boys jerk off to Jessica Biel in a wet bikini (even if they're secretly wishing it was Jamie Foxx). When it is at its dumbest, "Stealth" does have its fleeting moments of enjoyment both with and at its expense.
However much of the films far too long two hour runtime is devoted to try and come off as an intelligent thriller - big mistake. The central theme of the film follows the danger of replacing human pilots with their instincts and morals, with the cold hard intelligence of machines. Its not an uninteresting theme (cough Skynet cough) but its one that, much like the film's central catalyst of a lightning strike to the smart plane sending it haywire, feels old hat - this might have worked back in the gung ho "Top Gun" era but seems passe now. Indeed much of the film lacks any real human element to it - revolving around hardware, action set pieces and that most robotic of all things - male machismo bullshitting. Even the human scenes are essentially bad locker room jokes about sex or scenes with the characters discussing the central issue but in a startling display of ineptitude, never actually coming up with intelligent viewpoints on the subject.
So we end up with these actors all operating on autopilot. Sam Shepard is channeling his "Black Hawk Down" character, Jamie Foxx essentially just lays back and acts like a cocky shit waiting for everyone around him to grab some hand lotion and start stroking. As for our leads, Jessica Biel looks pretty and displays her on-screen strength (aka. chest) well even with a role this thankless, and Lucas just goes to prove he's too bland to be a leading man in the action film genre unless Eric Bana is around to clobber him. W.D. Richter's script gives none of these characters anything in the way of development aside from one very minor romantic subplot which feels utterly tacked on at the last minute to appease some of those all too promiscuous D-girls over at Revolution Studios. Armed with threadbare characters, the action moves to a variety of settings around the globe and yet the location shoots (with the notable exception of Thailand) feel far less impressive than your average episode of "Alias". The lack of believable locations is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plausibility problems.
Take one scene - one of our heroes finds her plane breaking apart around her and must eject to safety. As she does, she finds her plane breaking apart above her and so must hold off releasing her parachute until right near the ground. With a film like this we've come to expect some suspension of disbelief so one can forgive the idea of thousands of pieces of shrapnel raining all around her but not leaving a scratch. Trouble is piled on top of this is the fact she has just ejected over North Korea despite previously being somewhere in central Russia and headed toward the Phillippines - how did she get up there?. Having her land in territory hostile to the US armed forces is fair enough, hell that's pretty much every country on Earth these days thank you George W, but of all places it had to be North Korea (the obvious first choice was an Al-Qaeda bunker but the budget wouldn't allow it). Why wouldn't the North Koreans have shot at her when she entered their airspace? Wouldn't rescuing her incite a war? and why is it North Korea looks nothing like it should and so much like "Survivor: Australian Outback"?
This is just one sequence. "Stealth" is overflowing with continuity and credibility issues. It does manage to avoid some of the awful gung ho patriotism that's so prevalent of the Bruckheimer-esque type, but in some ways its just as bad as it essentially portrays the US Navy as a bunch of impulsive hotheads with glib answers and absolutely no regards for any country's sovereignty. It all comes as a great shame because given the right material and people, Rob Cohen has proven himself to be a good action director. His skill behind the camera makes some of the dogfight sequences and action set pieces fun and visually interesting but its the stuff around it - the actual film itself - that suffers badly here.
The story lacks focus or drive, there's no surprises whatsoever, various attempts are made to talk about the grander issues but these are cursory examinations at best, and much of the dialogue is truly in the 'for shame' category. Production values are fine, especially on the post front, but location shooting in the Blue Mountains looks decidedly on the cheap side. So much of the film just never seems to come together, its all so rushed and yet interminably long. Cohen's aims are ambitious, but they simply reach too far this time and get away from him.