Worth A Look: 24.44%
Just Average: 10.37%
Pretty Crappy: 21.48%
9 reviews, 81 user ratings
|Behind Enemy Lines
by MP Bartley
Apart from reviewing movies at this very website, I also work at my local cinema. The main benefit being that I get to see films for free, which means that after seeing this film I was only annoyed. Because if I'd had to pay to see it I'd have been bloody furious.Behind Enemy Lines has the dubious honour of being one of the most witless, ineptly directed, insultingly stupid films I've had to see lately.
"And the Oscar for worst Saving Private Ryan shaky-cam ripoff goes to..."
It's the kind of film that when you're watching just throws up memories of better films that it rips off. Sorry,borrows from. For example, the central theme of one man being rescued= Saving Private Ryan. The Bosnian-Serb conflict= Saviour. Gene Hackman in a starring role= Bat 21. Sped-up, shaky battle scenes= Saving Private Ryan, Three Kings, Enemy At The Gates etc. Now, the majority of war films resemble others in the genre in some shape or form. It's an unavoidable pitfall in such a wide genre. But Behind Enemy Lines doesn't have a single original feature.
Owen Wilson takes the main role as US Pilot Chris Burnett. You know the kind of Pilot we mean, cocky, flip, likes playing football on the runway, talks about trivial stuff like rock stars and jello. But damn it don't you know, he's only flip cos he wants some action. But he's not getting any keeping the peace over in Yugoslavia so he's about to kiss the airforce goodbye, which annoys his commander, Admiral Leslie Riegart (Gene Hackman). It annoys him because, Goddamnit he's seen action (probably in Bat 21 which is Behind Enemy Lines main, ahem, influence)and he knows it's not something to experience on a whim. Can you see the extent of character development we're going to have here folks?
So to teach Burnett a lesson, Riegart sends him on a recon mission where Burnett and co-pilot Stackhouse see a group of soldiers having a mass burial and take photos. Unsurprisingly, they're not too pleased at this so they shoot Burnett and Stackhouse down killing Stackhouse in the process. And that's the extent of the plot as Burnett waits for Riegart to organise a rescue attempt. Rarely has a film been so succintly summed in it's title, as Burnett runs around, gets shot at, runs some more, gets caught up in some explosions, runs some more, meets an Elvis Impersonator (no really), shoots some people, then goes home. Sorry, did I spoil the ending there? I hope so because the more people that avoid this, the better. I seriously think this film had a detrimental effect on my mental processes at several points.For example:
1)By the end we realize that Burnett has gone in a complete circle.Why?Why the hell don't they tell him to stay put? Why do they let him run around in a war-torn country causing no end of chaos when he COULD HAVE STAYED EXACTLY WHERE HE WAS?!?
2)And just what kind of Pilot is Burnett anyway? He gives away the kind of information to random civilians he wouldn't and shouldn't tell his family!
3)At one point pursued by the enemy, Burnett falls into a pit.We know he's alive, but he's being watched on satellite link-up by Riegart.So why do we have 5 minutes of Riegart demanding to know if he's alive and what's happening? Are we really supposed to be caught up in the tension of wondering if another character is going to realize something that WE ALREADY KNOW?
4)And there's more.Burnett escapes at one point by swopping his uniform with that of a dead soldier. The enemy realize this and send the Americans a video of this dead guy with a helmet on, claiming it's Burnett. And they belive it. I'll just say it again because it's so idiotic it defies belief. A room full of American intelligence (including an Admiral!)watch a video where they can't see the bodies face and assume it's Burnett! No-one questions it! Christ these are supposed to be the people running the current campaign in Afghanistan!
To make it worse we then cut to a scene where an enemy soldier walking away turns in slo-mo and takes off his balaclava, revealing himself to be...yes, Owen Wilson! Yes, alright we know! We know it's him! It would have been worth a big dramatic scene if it wasn't him, but Matt Damon say.
Frankly, Burnett shouldn't worry as he appears to be being pursued by the worst shots in cinema history. At one point an enemy soldier shoots at him at point blank range.But misses. Because Burnett ducks. Yes, Burnett ducks out of the way of a point blank shot. It's like Monty Python Saves Private Brian.
And this sense of idiocy just extends throughout the film.You may have noticed that throughout this review I've just referred to 'the enemy'.To be honest, looking back I have no idea whether Burnett is being pursued by Serbs, Muslims, Croats or Britney Spears backing troupe. And this signals the amount of interest that the film-makers have in the political situation there.You can tell when he meets a group of friendly soldiers because they drink coca-cola.No doubt they'd stop off at McDonalds if they had a chance.
Where Saving Private Ryan threw up questions about whether it was right to risk a group of lives for one and had an ambigious tone about warfare, Behind Enemy Lines has no such doubts. Sure, there's a scene where Hackman is informed by a UN official about the danger a rescue attempt for one man would be to the peace process, but that's just a cursory nod to a supposed intelligence behind the film. It practically screams "Ye-hah!Let's go get our star-striped, clean cut boy and to hell with the natives!". And I lost count of the amount of times that Hackman announces gravely to someone "Let's go get our boy".
This is the kind of part Hackman could pass off while getting up in the middle of the night to take a piss, it's that thin. Owen Wilson is always a likeable presence and makes a change to the usual muscle heads in this kind of film, but he can't do anything with a part this badly written. His reaction to most setbacks being a John Boy Walton-esque "Goddamn!". Or at one point a distinctly funny "You've got to be shitting me!". Did they want John McEnroe for this part originally?
The best you could say for Behind Enemy Lines is that it's technically competent. The shooting down scene is particularly well done, and Wilson being caught in a deserted industrial estate loaded with tripwires does manage to make hopscotch look vaguely exciting.But how thrilling does a technically competent film sound? An average episode of The X-Files is technically competent.The film ends with a caption that due to Burnetts photographic evidence a warlord was brought to justice.A fictional warlord.Quite why it ends with this caption is a mystery. Perhaps to bring some kind of reassurance that war is right, while we're involved in Afghanistan. Or perhaps it's more a sign of the lack of intelligence involved in trying to make a film about a politically and religiously tense situation. Can you remember the scene in 'Young Frankenstein' where Marty Feldman calls a brain "Abby Normal"? I think I know what that brain is doing now. It's making films like this. And it needs stopping.
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originally posted: 01/19/02 12:13:01