For an action movie, `Stealth' is looking good


July 29, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

If you like hard bodies and hot engines, if you want to feel like you're inside a cockpit or a video game with someone else working the joystick, you'll find decent escape from the summer doldrums in Stealth.

The director, Rob Cohen, photographs futuristic stealth airplanes as lovingly as he does his attractive, talented young stars. He lights the planes' control panels, portals and wingspans - and the actors' faces and physiques - for maximum definition and glamour.

Cohen's willingness to go the limit when it comes to staging explosions, hitting every world tension point and testing romantic love with physical feats has an enjoyable excess that rests just north of camp.

Josh Lucas as the top gun of his flying squad and Jessica Biel as one of his two wing-people worked themselves up to be as cocksure and persuasive as real Navy aces. When they take time off by a waterfall, it's refreshing to see a male form that looks spruce and functional and a female figure that's equally muscular and curvy.

Though Jamie Foxx doesn't receive the full beefcake treatment, he does provide an oasis of sanity. He's obsessed with things beyond flying, like numbers. And he's expressive enough to convince you that he can spark a romantic interlude with a girl who doesn't speak his language. (By-the-book Navy folk Biel and Lucas fight their true love to the end.)

Foxx also gets to voice the movie's qualms about civilian fallout from military action and the risks that traditional armed forces run from either fearing technology or over-relying on it - all the stuff that's meant to balance the movie's headlong daredeviltry.

This trio has already proved expert at flying sleek Talon airplanes when the commanding officer, Sam Shepard, introduces a new wingman to the team - an all-computerized Talon called EDI (and sometimes "The Tin Man").

Engineers have configured EDI to absorb the trio's wisdom and experience as he goes out with them on missions. But EDI doesn't always learn the right lessons. After a lightning storm scrambles his electronic brains, he develops a mind of his own. It's a juicy scenario - not surprising, since W.D. Richter, the writer of 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the writer and director of 1984's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, gets sole credit for the script.

Cohen doesn't shy away from its questions. But because of his visceral priorities, the issues register neither as text nor as subtext. They're more like side-text - they flash by peripherally as planes soar and crash and bombs pierce into real or simulated terrorist strongholds and Biel bails out at high speed and low altitude into North Korea.

The movie has a healthy disdain for politics and corporations and a healthy respect for service. And Cohen has fun playing with pop culture: Shepard, the icon of integrity from director Phil Kaufman's The Right Stuff (1983), trades moral places with Joe Morton, the inventor of Skynet from Terminator 2 (1991).

There's no denying Cohen's visual dexterity, whether he's putting you inside a helmet vibrating at Mach 3 or ejecting with Biel as debris rips into the sky all around her.

But as Warren Beatty once told Paul Schrader (albeit in different words), Cohen is climax-crazy. He'd actually give his target action audience more for the buck with less bang, more emotion.


Starring Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx

Directed by Rob Cohen

Released by Sony

Rated PG-13 (intense action, some violence, brief strong language and innuendo)

Time 130 minutes

Sun Score **1/2 (two stars and 1 half star)

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