Directed by Harvard’s finest auteur Rob Cohen, written by W.D. Richter (Buckaroo Banzai, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) and with a rootin’ tootin’ score by “BT” (the nom-de-pop of Brian Transeau) — the names responsible for bringing the movie Stealth to life are probably under your radar. It’s too bad, since Stealth, belying its own trailer, is a cut above the usual summer action movies and dumb fun in a slyly smart way.
The story of three top Navy pilots hunting a rogue unmanned stealth fighter would seem to be a predictable one. There’s the cliched Captain pushing the new technology too far, too fast (a scenery-chewing Sam Shepard) — except his motive is a pure one: trying to save soldiers’ lives. The hotshot pilots (Jamie Foxx, Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel) also have unexpected layers, although Foxx’s womanizing soul-brother is about two witty lines away from an action movie cut-out, especially in the completion of his character’s arc. Lucas’ character is a rules-were-made-to-be-broken rebel whose narcissism is a thin cover for self-loathing. Biel’s cold character, surprisingly, is busy during each mission calculating civilian casualties.
I wouldn’t go overboard in crediting the movie with political awareness, but it seems a part of this post-9/11 age more than even War of the Worlds, which very consciously echoed September 11th imagery. A story about AI technology and the military, which could have been bland, deserves credit for making the moral issues surrounding warfare an explicit part of the conflict among the central three pilots.
Technology too, is depicted as both a danger and an opportunity. A HAL9000 the “Eddy” drone is not — more like a rebelious teenager or petulant toddler. He is a machinemind that is not impervious to reason, which is one note of optimism as we ache toward the android future. “As long as a machine is controlled by a moral person,” Biel’s character says, “it is moral.”
Cohen takes a page from the Michael Bay playbook and keeps his camera continuously in motion. The effects are strong enough to make you forget that you are watching more 3D animation than Madigascar. With the muscular score and relentless forward momentum, the filmmakers have crafted an escape hatch of a movie. My recommendation to see it in theaters soon, while it is on the big DTS and SDDS multi-plex screens is a strong one, one I hopefully won’t regret. Missing that window, I’m still recommending a watch on DVD or when it hits cable and you’ve got nothing to do for two hours. It isn’t going to blow your mind or rock your world, but it will certainly entertain you, perhaps even tickling that rare-in-summer-months morality bone. That, in its own way, is another demonstration of stealth.
1. This is not to say the movie ever gets preachy, or is body-count averse. The concern for civilians quickly evaporates when convenient to the plot. This is a popcorn movie after all.