Worth A Look: 24.44%
Just Average: 10.37%
Pretty Crappy: 21.48%
9 reviews, 81 user ratings
|Behind Enemy Lines
by Erik Childress
Back in the post-Vietnam “me, me, me” era of the 80s, before the onslaught of emotionally jarring Vietnam films hit theaters, multiplexes were filled with cookie-cutter video game-like war scenarios usually centered around the theme of “bringing our boys home.” Movies like Uncommon Valor, Missing In Action and Rambo: First Blood Part II were black-and-white good vs. evil, albeit occasionally entertaining “Go America!” pieces while even lighter fluff like Top Gun and Iron Eagle were all but missing pictures of a pointing Uncle Sam on their theatrical posters. Since Saving Private Ryan, WWII has become the coup de grace of Hollywood war epics and while we are seemingly going backwards in our historical coverage, we have gone even further back with the release of Behind Enemy Lines, an unapologetic flag waving military action flick that just happens to suck really, really bad.The experience is made all the more unbearable because it takes two of my favorite screen presences and makes them wade through one of the most poorly-directed piece-of-crap scripts I may have ever seen. When audiences wonder what critics refer to as “lack of depth” in a screenplay, this is what they mean. The only depth associated with this script is the fact that the paper its printed on stacks up in a pile. A pile of shit.
"Silly Military Action Films Don't Get Much Worse"
(BE FOREWARNED – IN ORDER TO EXPLAIN THE UTTER ABSURDITY OF THIS FILM – SEVERAL SPOILERS ARE REVEALED!!! THEN AGAIN IF YOU WERE EXPECTING SURPRISES AND COMPLEXITY YOU’VE PICKED THE WRONG FILM.)
Not to be confused with the film “Behind Enemy Lines” from 1985, 1986 or 1996, the now-2001 version (bumped up from 2002 to capitalize on enduring freedom), stars Owen Wilson as hotshot aviator Lt. Chris Burnett. He’s one of those smart-aleck military types you see in movies always cracking wise about never getting into any action. Dammit, he wants to stop eating jello and doing routine fly-bys and get into the mess. Even though it’s technically peace time, he’s informed by his un-amused commanding officer, Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman) that every time they step foot on that battleship they “are at war.” Just so we know he’s serious, Hackman even gets a “you don’t know the first thing about” line complete with a quick camera zoom and swelling “dah-deh-DUH” music.
As punishment for his insolence, Burnett and his partner, Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are assigned to a routine reconnaissance mission during Christmas day. (Cue Trailer Voice) “But this mission turns out to be anything but routine...when he sees something...he wasn’t supposed to see.” That something is a tad of genocide going on underneath their shiny new digital cameras and soon the pair are on the run evading a pair of heat-seeking missiles. For those already wondering where that half-star comes from in my rating – it’s for this sequence.
Needless to say the evasion isn’t quite as successful and Burnett finds himself on the ground, running for his life to a rendezvous point after his partner is executed. With limited resources and battlefield inexperience, Burnett would seem like a sitting duck for even the smallest army. But it helps when the army (within initial striking distance) is called off by Serb Commander Lokar (Olek Krupa) in favor of sending his top sniper known as Tracker (Vladimir Mashkov). If the intricacy of the sniper game in Enemy of the Gates was as professional as it gets in the movies, then the cat-and-mouse game here is strictly material for the XFL.
For all intents and purposes, this movie could be a 30-minute short, ending with either the quick annihilation of Burnett by the Serbian troops or the easy pick-up and rescue by American forces. But in an attempt to perhaps qualify for the American Film Institute’s eventual “100 Years…100 Wars” special which requires 60 minutes of running time, the film is stretched to ridiculous lengths with every possible stalling cliché this side of looking up in the air for an answer.
It goes something like this. Admiral Reigart is informed of the downed pilot and is readying forces when he’s told by supreme NATO Admiral Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida) not to upset “trade talks” or something or other. Reigart, against his will and over the disbelief of his stranded pilot, is ordered to stand down and actually tells Burnett that “life is tough” and he’ll just have to keep running. Later when Reigart rounds up the troops and devises a battle plan to go in, Piquet shows up again with a group of Red Berets to tell us he’s sending them instead. These Reds then make a single lap in a chopper and miss Burnett in an open field. Geez, you cover more area on the helicopter tours in Wisconsin Dells. This déjà vu-like repetition can also be found in Piquet’s dialogue. Early in the film he tells Reigart, “I’ve been commanding this boat for five years.” In a later conversation with Reigart he asks, “How long have we known each other? Five years?”
But this is an action film, so who cares about wafer-thin characterization and wasteful dialogue, just deliver the bang-bang, right? Well, other than the aforementioned aerial chase, the action/suspense sequences are poorly conceived and even more ineptly directed by Sega commercial director John Moore. In one set piece as the shipmates watch Burnett (courtesy of heat radar) evade his numerous attackers, he is forced to lie still. The audience is well aware of why he’s doing it, but the film keeps cutting back to Hackman asking inane questions like, “why isn’t he moving?”, “is he dead?”, “what’s going on?”.
In another, Burnett realizes he’s walked into a tripwire field that kids were playing in (which looks like an abandoned set of Battlefield Earth) and has to evade a pair of soldiers. Instead of milking a millisecond of suspense from Burnett trying to avoid the soldiers AND the wires at the same time, he just trips one to set off a Domino Rally effect of explosions which occur behind the appropriate wires (and the victim tripping them) thus negating much of the purpose of having them.
Moore even commits the egregious sins of either taking the audience for idiots, going for cheap applause (or both at the same time.) After a skirmish through the local town, Burnett manages to elude the enemy through a device we’ve seen hundreds of times in movies before. The baddies discover this ploy, the audience is shown what Burnett has done and for safe measure, we’re even TOLD what he’s done. Moore then drags us through the mud for another minute on a man walking away from the incident. It might be…it could be…just in case we’re not sure, Burnett takes off his mask and looks straight back to the camera. Music swells. If you look close at the top of the screen, that’s not a mis-framed boom mike but an applause sign. If Owen Wilson would have given us a thumbs up and winked, I might just have.
Wilson brings an instant likability to whatever character he embodies and I wish I could say his charm and humor was worthy of an extra star or half, but he only ends up adding weight to the unintentional humor of the piece. Perhaps Wilson & Hackman thought they were making a satire of the Iron Eagles of the world. After all, Hackman has already played a variation of this role about (Crimson Tide, Uncommon Valor, A Bridge Too Far) and has even played the Wilson role at least once (Bat 21). On the other hand maybe they both took these roles to help fund their upcoming “The Royal Tenenbaums”. Either way, it’s easy for me to forgive them.
What’s unforgivable is filmmaking at an ineptitude level of a big budget Ed Wood. In another poorly tested case of a commercial/music video director given his shot at The Show, John Moore should be taught that speeding up and slowing down the action is just flash and ranks in the current realm of OVERused flash. Borrowing elements from much better war/action films (Hanks’ loss of hearing from Saving Private Ryan or teaming up with local allies to fight the enemy from Three Kings) can only work as a supplement to an already existing substance. Otherwise, you’re just a blatant thief.
Perhaps most amazing is how Behind Enemy Lines actually managed to become one of Fox’s highest screen tested films in history. Then again, after Sept. 11, Andy Warhol could have put a camera in front of an American flag for 24 hours and it would probably win Best Picture. There’s nothing wrong with pro-American sentiment in films. But they should from the result of the values and accomplishments of everything that the flag stands for and the Americans behind those feats. Anything other than that is just self-gratifying flag worship and diminishes everything this country stands for into a mere symbol.
Consider the moment when Burnett hitches a ride with some local allies. The driver is made up to look like Elvis Presley, one of the passengers loves the hip-hop (“East Coast and West Coast”) and when asked for water, Burnett is handed a Coca-Cola. HEY – these people LOVE America! They must be Burnett’s friends. On the count of three – everyone beat their chest and yell “AMERICA RULES!!!”Action films such as this all have their place in the film world, whether as crowd pleasers or just silly guilty pleasures with a great Queen song on the soundtrack. Behind Enemy Lines is a joke on any level, especially if anyone saw HBO’s recently completed masterpiece of a mini-series, Band of Brothers, which was a real story about heroism and what so many individuals gave up for this country. Individuals who had to scrounge together “points” during WWII in order to make them eligible to come home to enjoy the very freedom they helped fight for. Behind Enemy Lines is just B-A-D. Yes, it’s Mystery Science Theater bad, but that doesn’t give the film enough points to give one a pleasant return trip home.
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originally posted: 11/30/01 01:49:05