The opening training mission sequence of Stealth introduces a trio of hotshot Navy superpilots in Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx), who finish their task with a major bang as Ben announces he’s preparing for “penetration detonation” (there’s a kiloton of eroticized weaponry and maneuvers in Stealth, with all the insertions and thrust and penetration). Once these aces are done getting the high score (seriously) with their next-gen flying machines, their immediate superior (Sam Shepard) hands them their new assignment and informs them they’ll soon have a fourth wingman. After conveying their displeasure in a spiel about how three is such a lucky number, these party pilots venture out for a night of boozing (“Don’t think, drink!”), and the men commence womanizing (I thought for sure Ben’s “date” would turn out to be a dude) while Kara flies solo.
On the USS Whatever, the heroes saunter slo-mo across the carrier deck to meet their new comrade, an artificially intelligent experimental plane they call “Eddie” (it’s short for EDI UCAV, which is an acronym for some sub-Trek technojargon). This slick multibillion-dollar ultra-jet makes the SR-71 Blackbird look like a Ford Pinto, and is flown by a hyper-smart ball of condensed computer components that will learn from flying with Ben and company (subtle foreshadowing — when Ben asks why EDI has a cockpit he’s informed that it’s for repairs and test flights, which roughly translates to “Because you’ll have to climb in there and fly it before the end of the movie”). This is followed by the Character Development Montage, where we sneak a look at each pilot in their quarters studying the EDI files while listening to different songs from the movie’s crap-rock soundtrack. It’s quickly revealed that Ben has developed an emotional attachment to Kara (possibly because she looks like Jessica Biel), and that Henry is really just kind of a one-note narcissistic jackass.
During their first flight exercise with EDI, the now-quartet suddenly gets called away to Rangoon for an opportunity target — a whole bunch of multinational terrorists have decided to have a summit meeting in a big building downtown. When the mission is scrapped due to difficulty and potential civilian casualties, Ben disobeys orders and soars into the upper atmosphere before nose-diving a missile through the building’s roof, miraculously killing all the villains without harming another soul in the vicinity.
But on their way back to the carrier, EDI’s circuits get scrambled by a high-altitude lightning strike (it seems nobody thought to weatherproof an inordinately expensive vehicle that FLIES THROUGH CLOUDS). Yes, the same force of nature that breathed life into Short Circuit’s Johnny 5 and caused cybernetic havoc in Chopping Mall is the catalyst for one haywire plane, setting up the action for the remainder of the movie… but not before they all take a break in Thailand so Kara can display her astonishing bikini-clad bod as she frolics by a waterfall. Then it’s off to
Don’t let the title fool you — this misnamed airborne event has all the stealth of a ninja wearing tap shoes and safety orange while singing Whitesnake songs at the top of his lungs. An abrasive, radically unimaginative smash-cut concoction of endless ordnance and deafening clamor (even EDI enjoys playing atrocious music from the official soundtrack – I can’t help but envision a room full of ponytailed execs wringing their hands and saying “The kids will love this!”), Rob Cohen’s movie streaks forward with even more velocity than the supersonic jets that are ostensibly not the main stars. Which is saying something, because whether the planes are ludicrously fast or the world will shrink in a few years time, the film has absolutely no sense of geography – they’re over Russia, they’re in Thailand, they’re over North Korea, they’re in Alaska – I have no idea where the aircraft carrier even started.
The screenplay is credited to W.D. Richter, whose name genre fans will undoubtedly recognize as the writer of Big Trouble in Little China and director of Buckaroo Banzai. With Stealth I have to assume that A) he wrote the script when he was 15 years old, B) it was significantly altered over the course of the film’s production, or C) it was actually this monumentally nonsensical and idiotic to begin with (Henry picks up gorgeous girls by saying “I fly jets, do you like to go fast?” and it actually works).
There are also some weird antiwar sentiments running through a film revolving around advanced military hardware. We don’t want anyone actually getting hurt in all this combat and antiterrorism business, so countless taxpayer dollars are expended on keeping a few pilots alive (Henry proclaims that all their war technology exists so he can be home for Thanksgiving dinner). The movie also seems markedly concerned with possible innocents becoming collateral — just as the pilots are about to smithereen a mountainside fortress filled with terrorists (and their stolen nukes), Kara realizes there’s a village nearby that could be affected. “Farmers, Ben! They’re just farmers!”
However, if the military has determined you’re a “bad guy”, you’re basically gonna get seven bells of shit smashed out of you. In Stealth, villains don’t just get shot — gunfire hurls them hundreds of feet away as though they’ve been yanked by celestial puppet strings, or otherwise they’re completely immolated by impossibly large explosions created by an almost limitless supply of rockets with nifty names. By the time the final Boss Character — a North Korean sharpshooter who hounds Kara across the landscape of that nasty country where she just so happens to crash land — gets viciously launched into a razorwire fence, my sides were sore from hysterical laughter. If the enemy is really lucky, the Navy’s finest may only decide to drop a building on them, but it seems that the basic key to fighting terrorism is to shoot them all with missiles.
With such a sketchy script and significant competition from post-production pixels and polygons, the actors make a noble enough effort with the sole character trait assigned to them – Foxx digs the ladies (his presence here is a pre-Ray afterthought), Biel is ambitious (and staggeringly hot), Shepard has single-minded, evil determination (oh, and he likes green apples!). Lucas is a strange cat to pin down, but he definitely has an effortless charm (except perhaps in his Hulk turn as villain and white outline), as if some Hollywood geneticist successfully put Owen and Luke Wilson in the Brundlepod with McConaughey, Tom Jane, and maybe a random chunk of Ben Stiller. In addition, Van Helsing overactor Richard Roxburgh shows up for three scenes as the genius inventor of EDI’s intellectual infrastructure (though even he can’t adequately explain the absurd third-act plot points), the always reliable Joe Morton plays Ben’s former commanding officer, and there’s a shady politician played by David Andrews, the military guy who activated SkyNet in Terminator 3, which I can’t decide is a sly nod to another tech-gone-awry story or simply a coincidence from central casting.
But the humans take the Goose seat when it comes to the planes, and for the most part the FX work is seamless and generally spectacular (although as great as the planes themselves look, their exhaust comes straight from a 16-bit shooter, possibly Xevious), even if all the dogfighting ultimately gets tiresome. The great thing about setting your movie in the “near future” is that you can just make up whatever technology doesn’t currently exist, such as the refueling dirigible that drifts lazily in the air and easily provides the film’s biggest kerblooey, which unfortunately was revealed in the trailer.
As wonderfully bad as it is, Stealth isn’t quite amusing enough to supplant XXX: State of the
8.5 out of 10
3.0 out of 10