`Enemy' moves fast, but don't think too hard

Review: There's plenty of adrenaline and lots of action, but not much else.

November 30, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Behind Enemy Lines is all guts and all glory and not much sense. Which, come to think of it, may be a concise - if a tad idealized - description of war itself.

What that means is a lot of things get blown up real good, there's a trapped airman running from the bad guys, and there are all sorts of opportunities for heroism. It's plenty thrilling, and it appeals to the flag-waving patriot in all of us.

Think about the movie too hard when it's all over, however, and your brain may start to hurt. (That, of course, is the problem with far too many Hollywood films these days.)

Owen Wilson is making a career of playing characters who pretend they're not out of their element. Here, he is Chris Burnett, a flight navigator who's mightily upset that the war in Bosnia isn't the shoot-'em-up video game he expected. With politicians hard at work negotiating a peace, he and his fellow top guns are relegated to flying reconnaissance missions, taking photographs, policing the skies and doing what he regards as little better than busy-work.

He's so disgusted, he's about to quit. But his commander, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), has seen something in this kid - something that would make him one of the best, if only he applied himself.

Fat chance - young Burnett's too cocksure to take this old guy seriously. But then, on a routine reconnaissance mission, Burnett and a pilot travel over a no-fly zone and get themselves in a heap of trouble. They're shot down by enemy fire (or at least we think it's enemy fire; it's never made clear), and his partner is incapacitated with a broken leg. Burnett quickly realizes war is no game.

And so the real action begins: Burnett finds fortitude he never knew he had and eludes his captors; some mysteriously nasty bad guys want his head on a stick; and Reigart makes plans to rescue his boy. Then the mealy-mouthed politicians get involved - they fear that a dramatic, flag-waving, guns-blaring rescue will subvert the fragile peace process.

It turns out that Burnett, who wanted action, is going to get plenty. If he wants to get out of Bosnia alive, he's going to have to do it himself.

Behind Enemy Lines pulls out all manner of stops to ratchet up the intensity, sometimes beyond the point of credibility. I'm no expert, but is it really possible to outrun a minefield? And shouldn't an expert sharpshooter be able to hit a guy sliding down a concrete incline? Heck, kids in video games can hit that sort of target.

It's also a little hard to work up a lot of pity for Burnett. After all, he and his buddy did violate orders - a fact that's nicely glossed over for most of the film.

First-time director John Moore betrays his music video background by leaning too heavily on the loud-music button whenever there's an action scene; the adrenaline's in the action, not in the pounding bass lines. But he also does a good job of keeping the action moving forward, while giving the audience an occasional moment to breathe.

Behind Enemy Lines is another big-screen video game - all action and emotion with precious little thought. Until Hollywood rediscovers action movies that engage both the head and the heart, this one qualifies as state of the art. We could do worse.

Behind Enemy Lines

Starring Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13 (Adult language, violence)

Running time 110 minutes

Sun score ***

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