OK so let’s assume for a moment that you are Rob Cohen, and you have just conned Columbia Pictures into thinking that you are qualified to direct their $100 million summer action flick with a twist of morality, “Stealth.” Then you see that the script calls for three lead actors, and you are given Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas. One’s got Academy Award-level talent, another is an instant publicity stunt (just add water) and the third is coming off indie glitz aplenty and a highly coveted but uncredited role in HBO’s “Empire Falls.”

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“Wait, you mean they can retract Oscars?” (Courtesy of Columbia)

The obvious choice is to cast the Oscar-caliber talent in the lead. The second, less logical but still relatively sane choice is to cast the girl-next-door, ex-WB star in the lead. Then you could cast the no-name pretty boy from “Sweet Home Alabama” ahead of Foxx and Biel, which, of course, is the route that Cohen took, adding yet another thing to tack onto the long list of flaws that sink his film.

The hookey premise of “Stealth” seems simple enough. There are three highly trained, superhuman Navy pilots who fly secret missions and kick major butt. The trio is upstaged by the military’s constant need to push the limits of technology: They bring into their midst a fourth wingman, one who is completely automatic. But wait, all is not well in Pentagon land: The unmanned fighter (curiously named Eddie) gets struck by lightning and goes berserk, selecting and destroying targets on its own and causing many people of various ethnicities to run and scream loudly all over the world.

The film doesn’t so much borrow genre elements as it makes them its foundation. The whole “few chosen pilots” theme got old somewhere between “Top Gun” and “Independence Day.” The idea of cutting-edge technology evolving and thus back-firing was at least explained in “I, Robot.” It’s clear that Cohen cares more about blowing stuff up and “hardcore” rock music than explaining the moral issues involved — but then again, what do you expect from the guy that made “xXx” and “The Fast and the Furious”?

In the lead, Lucas battles major internal issues throughout the film. He has to make tough choices, look deep inside himself, do what he thinks is right in the face of his superiors and so forth. He does an admirable job given the material but doesn’t have the poster-boy talent required for his role. Foxx, as is to be expected, steals just about every scene he’s in with a mixture of subtlety and mojo infused into some truly abysmal dialogue. Biel has some entertaining girl-power moments, but they occur in one of the film’s many confusing tangents, so few viewers will actually care for her struggle.

“Stealth” has moments where it seems like the storyline will take off, but then one of the many wannabe-hardcore-wish-they-were-Jack-Nicholson generals comes on and barks out some idiotic pseudo-military orders (“national security threat” is a popular catchphrase). About that time you remember that “Batman Begins” is still playing three screens down — maybe you could sneak in. But you decide to stay through the endless action sequences and snappy one-liners that pass the time agreeably, if you are willing to set aside your intelligence, artificial or otherwise.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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