Good films can prompt viewers to ask meaningful, important questions. Even good action films can make audiences wonder about the nature of evil or the strength and courage it takes to stand up and defeat powerful opposing forces. After viewing “Behind Enemy Lines,” the only questions that will be asked are: In what year did this film take place? Why was Lt. Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) stupid enough to yell aloud when the Serbian guerillas shot his co-pilot to make aware his presence? What were Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman thinking as they read this script and signed on? Was there ever a script to read?
Lt. Burnett is a Navy flier stationed aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson near Bosnia. Burnett is prepared to leave the military due to his lack of action and his confusion over what and whom they are fighting for. Carrier CO Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman) punishes Burnett for his lack of faith by sending him and his copilot Jeremy “Not Quite Jerry” Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) on a reconnaissance mission on Christmas Day. Burnett proceeds to compel Stackhouse to fly into a no fly zone where they take pictures of some illegal military action and are thus shot down by a couple of missiles.
It seems that Burnett and Stackhouse stumbled upon a group of Serbian guerrillas acting in defiance of a new Serbian Peace treaty. These men go on to assassinate Stackhouse, leaving Burnett all on his own, running away from the very bad men, including one wearing a very fashionable Adidas jump suit jacket. Meanwhile back at the carrier, Reigart is prepared to mount a rescue operation but Admiral Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida), working for NATO and superior to Reigert, will not allow such a mission, as it will damage the peace process. There is the setup for all the action movie clichs to follow.
Sadly, it actually took four writers to compile this awkward, banal story filled with familiar lines of dialogue and familiar images, with some lifted directly from the best fighter pilot movie of them all, “Top Gun.” “Behind Enemy Lines” employs every visual gimmick not just once but numerous times to try and distract viewers from noticing the plot holes, weaknesses and character”s lack of sensibility. Slow motion, fast motion, jump cuts, 360-degree camera movements and a lot of shaky handheld camerawork all attempt to divert your attention from continuity and factual errors. “Behind Enemy Lines” also employs the use of on-screen credits to introduce characters, settings, and situations that the script cannot adequately introduce. A subtitle for “Behind Enemy Lines” could be Top 10 Signs of a Bad Screenplay.
Wilson”s Burnett may be the dumbest military action hero in military history. He does not know the meaning of the words silent or unseen as he numerously leaves behind clues to his path, and also travels in open areas susceptible to enemy fire. Miraculously, he evades all bullets and shows off a feet-first slide that would make Ichiro jealous, while shooting and killing Serbs at the same time. Lucky for him, the enemy is just as brainless. The war-torn country of Bosnia has the makings for a great, intelligent and complex film that can enlighten Americans to a war few know much about “Welcome to Sarajevo” came close, but “Behind Enemy Lines” is way off track.
Hackman steps into a role that bears a great resemblance to his own in “Crimson Tide” in character but lacks the strong presence and intelligence that he usually brings to the screen. And you know a film must have bad acting all across the board when two-time Oscar winner Hackman cannot emit genuine emotion.
Faring just as badly is Wilson, more known for his great comedic performances in “Meet the Parents” and “Bottle Rocket.” To give both these actors credit, it is almost impossible to spit out this conventional dialogue without laughing, and the editor does not help much with the film”s uneven pacing and constant transitions from one bad, erratic shot to another. This film is just plain ugly to look at, and I”m not referring to the curve in Owen Wilson”s nose.
John Moore makes his directorial debut with “Behind Enemy Lines,” and with all luck it will be his last effort. Moore is another in the long line of commercial and video directors whose purpose is to shorten most people”s already short attention spans. He does all he can to breathe excitement into the film”s action sequences, and then when he nears success, something else goes wrong, such as inconsistent music, which varies from all too obvious and sappy to totally absent when it”s actually necessary.
Moore may never work again, but Wilson and Hackman surely will. Actually, they will very soon reappear onscreen together in Wes Anderson”s “The Royal Tenenbaum”s” which promises to be an original, creatively, and lively film much like Anderson”s “Rushmore” and very unlike Moore”s “Behind Enemy Lines.”