STEALTH - DVD review

Stealth has some wonderful action sequences and flight scenes, which is good, because they're the only thing keeping us all from nodding off because of an oxygen-deprived script and mechanical acting.

James Plath's picture

One of the extras on this DVD shows director Rob Cohen leading the cast and crew in a hand-holding "good thoughts" circle before they started shooting. But it doesn't appear to have helped much. Though "Stealth" has some nice action sequences and special effects, a thin script and two-dimensional, comic-book characters make it all self-destruct. Which is too bad, considering that it's also a rarity among shoot-'em-up flicks in that the payload "Stealth" carries is an anti-war message.

Set slightly into the future, "Stealth" concerns three naval pilots who were chosen from 400 applicants to fly specially designed and computerized experimental aircraft, and the film has a kind of "Top Gun" feel to it in the early going. It's all training, showboating, and kidding around until a staged scenario mission turns into a real one. But it's tough to imagine who could have talked Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx into donning a flight suit for this sub-par film. As Lt. Henry Purcell, Foxx is the third wheel, the one made expendable the minute that writer W.D. Richter decided to give the other two a romantic sideplot that goes against navy rules and leads to some pretty illogical resolutions.

The principle humans in this film are Lts. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas) and Kara Wade (Jessica Biel). But like "2001: A Space Odyssey," the character who takes center-stage is an R2-D2 sort of computer brain who's placed in the cockpit of a fourth Stealth fighter to act as Ben's wingman and eventually starts to act human. Naturally, there's resentment. While their immediate superior, Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard) goes by the gender that its creator assigned it, Ben grumbles, "I'll call it a "he" when it gets out of the cockpit and takes a piss." But the three humans and the mechanical pilot dubbed EDI ("Eddie," short for Extreme Deep Invader) hardly have any time to learn about each other before they're thrust into a real mission.

Here's where things start to go awry. Combine the fact that EDI learns from the humans around him (and Ben is a loose cannon who disobeys a direct order in order to play John Henry against EDI's steam-engine) with a lighting strike that just happens to strike EDI right on his computerized noggin, and you've got instant trouble. Now EDI wants to be like Ben, a maverick who doesn't follow orders, and he's got ideas of his own when they're sent next into Russian air space to take out the stronghold of a warlord who got his hands on scud "carcasses" and nuclear warheads. This time, Ben decides to abort the mission when it's clear that their strike would kill at least a thousand innocent farmers and put all of Pakistan in jeopardy from nuclear fallout. But EDI says, "Negative. Tin Man (the derisive name by which he was called) will not abort."

And there you have it. But things go awry even worse when the script calls for Kara to get shot down over North Korea and try to escape from North Korean regulars in dogged shoot-it-out scenes. There's not a more unlikely sequence in the film than when Ben flies to her rescue and puts down at exactly the spot where she's been hiding as if it were a visit to Disneyland—and it couldn't be more fantastic. Moments like this make "Stealth" unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny.

Cohen ("xXx," "The Fast and the Furious") has said that his strategy in action films is to make people experience speed and not just see things moving quickly. That translates, at least in this film, into a video-game approach, where viewers have the feel of piloting the planes. The problem then, he says, is how to "mediate between viewer discomfort and exhilaration." But it strikes me that an even greater problem, for a script that has such lines in it as "War's terrible, it's meant to be terrible, and if it stops being terrible, what's going to stop us? Just send in the EDIs," is how do you celebrate speed and pander to the video-game mindset of an audience while telling them all those cool explosions and battle scenes are bad?

Ultimately, though, it's a script that insults audiences with ridiculous scenarios and talks down to them, combined with EDI-like performances, that bring the film down.

Video: The picture quality is exceptional, with the film mastered in High Definition and presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen that really captures the full expanse of the numerous explosions, fireballs, and action stunts. And the colors? They're bright and natural-looking, with great saturation even in the night scenes.

Audio: The sound is dynamic and diffused across the entire speaker surround system, with enough bass to set a few objects in the room vibrating. We're talking DTS, people, and a great sound. The English and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital options also produce a strong sound, though French-speakers have to settle for Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround if they prefer to watch the film dubbed. But hey, with subtitles in English, Chinese, French, Korean, and Thai, there's really no reason to not watch "Stealth" in glorious DTS if you've got the decoder.

Extras: In this two-disc set, there's a whole disc full of extras (four hours, count 'em) that, frankly, are as average as the film. Surprisingly, there's no commentary, but the "making of" feature is pretty decent, and Cohen's pacifist attitude comes to the forefront. The whole point of the film, he says, is to question in an age of ever-expanding technology, "What is going to stop us from making war if the human element is no longer a factor?" But there's a lot on the filming techniques too, with Lucas remarking that "so much of it was created in green-screen that it takes a powerful imagination to pull it off." The three-part documentary offers up plenty of insights, including Cohen's poignant take on the movie business itself, comparing it to the circus that comes to town . . . then everybody packs up and goes their separate ways. Would-be filmmakers might also embroider this on their pillows: "If you know how to make it, it's probably been done before." Cohen said that what interested him most about "Stealth" was that he understood the concept but didn't know how to pull it off. It scared him. But it also exhilarated him. Funny, how similar that sounds to his philosophy of playing to audiences.

A second shorter feature on "In-Depth Scene Deconstructions: Detailed and Declassified" is also pretty good, and a nice behind-the-scenes primer for action fans, as is a very brief multi-angle scene breakdown. But the most curious feature is a very low-key and seemingly long extra on "The Music of Stealth," which moves at such a slow pace and gets more into symphonic music that it's tough for me to imagine action-lovers warming to it. Rounding out the extras is a "Make a Move" music video from incubus.

Bottom Line: "Stealth" has some wonderful action sequences and flight scenes, which is good, because they're the only thing keeping us all from nodding off because of an oxygen-deprived script and mechanical acting.


Film Value