So, with nostalgia looming large in my heart, I put Stealth, a 2005 action film about another high-tech jet plane, into my Netflix queue, and waited with bated breath for it to arrive. Kathryn rolled her eyes when she saw I had rented it. She knew what we were in for.
But hey, I didn't need the movie to be a classic. I didn't need it to be great, even. I just wanted a tense adventure, and some big-time aerial destruction, convincingly rendered. I still remember seeing the trailer for the film, which - if I remember it right - seemed to indicate that a plane equipped with artificial intelligence was barreling down on one of our major cities here in the U.S. and that it was up to three hot dog pilots to stop it before it could drop off a nuclear payload.
That sounds like a cool story, doesn't it? I think so...
Nothing like that happens in Stealth. Bummer. Big time bummer.
Stealth is set "the near future" when the Navy is testing a "new program" and "experimental technology," the film's opening card reveals. This new program as it turns out, is something called E.D.I. (Extreme Deep Invader), an attack plane that is, well, smart. Smarter than the screenwriter, anyway. E.D.I. boasts artificial intelligence and so can react faster than any human pilot in a crisis, even those three hot dogs I mentioned above, here played by Jamie Foxx, smoking-hot Jessica Biel (she can ride my tail anytime...), and Josh Lucas.
These pilots, who fly cool looking "talon" fighters (hey, He-Man also flew talon fighters!!!), are suspicious of their new computerized wing-man, and sure enough, they have just cause. Before long things go wrong. HORRIBLY WRONG. E.D.I. learns all the wrong lessons from the pilots, particularly the headstrong Lucas, and goes rogue on a mission in Tajikistan to take out a warlord with WMD. In the process, he chalks up some big time collateral damage. Oopsy.
All this set-up got my blood pumping, particularly the scene set in Thailand with Jessica Biel in a blue bikini. Wait, what was I talking about?
Oh yeah, Stealth. So anyway, the first half of the movie smells of three-day-old Michael Bay, but still, it's good in that cheesy Hollywood way. You just know E.D.I. is gonna go nuts and there's gonna be trouble in the air. Admittedly, the movie provides some incredible and impressive special effects. For instance, there's an amazing shot, a zoom from Earth orbit right down the surface with the planet, to a castle rampart where an evil terrorist is standing. If this isn't what CGI was designed for, I don't know what is.
Then there's the absolutely harrowing and nutty scene in which Biel must eject from her damaged talon fighter, and - under a disintegrating parachute - is always just inches away from flaming metal debris. Yikes.
This is all to the good. No doubt. But then things take a turn. A wrong turn. Let me give you the set-up. Biel is downed in North Korea, on her own. And Jamie Foxx has been killed in a great, moving scene involving aerial combat with E.D.I. Now, it's up to the last airborne pilot, Lucas, to bring in E.D.I. (which isn't barreling towards an American city with a nuclear payload at all...that's just a trailer gimmick).
So what happens? Well, in the last act, the evil plane, E.D.I. develops a "human" conscience and joins forces with Josh Lucas's character to rescue Jessica Biel and take down the evil General played by Sam Shepard.
What the hell?
I don't know that I've ever seen a more lame third act than this movie's. Why make this movie if - in the end - you're not going to pit human instinct and cunning against machine prowess for one glorious fight in the air? Why set up Lucas as the ultimate pilot bad ass, and put him in conflict with the newest evil technology...and then cop out on the final battle? Why make E.D.I. a "tragic" good guy?
In the movie's last scene, E.D.I. even obligingly commits suicide. Allowing a North Korean helicopter to blow him up. I have to admit, this scene made me laugh, because the hackneyed, menacing "North Korean"-sounding music on the soundtrack reminded me of Team America: World Police. I kept expecting a Kim-Jong IL puppet to show up.
By the end of the movie, I was righteously pissed. All Stealth had to do to merit a good review from this writer was deliver a climax that built on the action-adventure achievements of the first half of the film. It would have been a rip-roaring (albeit lame-brained...) actioner. It would have been a guilty pleasure that made me smirk and smile. Don't we all have movies we enjoy that are just this dumb?
But no. We can't have that. Instead, we get this lame-ass ending.
And don't even get me started on the scene that rips off H.A.L. in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Remember in the Kubrick classic how, when the astronauts conspired in the pod, HAL could actually read their lips? Stealth has the audacity to steal that scene here. I'm sure the writer would call it an homage...but let's call a spade a spade. It's a frigging rip-off.
My main question after watching Stealth: If some screenwriter somewhere was smart enough to crib a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, why wasn't he also smart enough to crib the aerial climax of Firefox? Or, for goodness sake, even Top Gun? Or Iron Eagle?