In the old days people moviegoers might enter the theater with gimmicky items such as 3-D glasses or even scratch and sniff cards but for this new actioneer viewers should have been handed joysticks. Chalk it up as another big summer film, which often means razor thin characters and high caliber special effects, and Stealth delivers on both counts.
Hotshot U.S. Navy pilots Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx) represent the cream of the crop so they fly as part of an elite tactical squadron who fly highly classified stealth fighter jets known only as Talons. Somewhat mirroring the real world, they carry out top secret bombing raids and assassination missions in various parts of the globe.
Everything remains peaceful in the trio’s world until their commanding officer (Sam Shepard) introduces a new wingman to their unit – an artificial intelligence-based UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), nicknamed “EDI.” Gannon, who smacks of Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” character in Top Gun (except with less smiles), questions his commanding officer about taking “the human element out of war.” To the trio’s surprise EDI performs like ones of the boys on its (his, her?) first mission. But lightning strikes (literally) EDI and causes the drone’s brain to expand. On their next bombing raid, EDI starts to make decisions on it’s own. Quicker than you can say HAL-9000, EDI (whose voice and dialogue seem all too reminiscent of the famous malfunctioning computer in 2001, takes off on his own, loses its temper, disobeys orders and jets off like a multibillion dollar dog gone rabid. Once it starts killing people, the Navy decides to put it to sleep or at least get it a flea collar before it accidentally starts Armageddon by dropping bombs in remote Russia.
Not that the flying scenes and special effects don’t rate highly but director Rob Cohen (XXX, The Fast and the Furious) who can create startling action images seems transfixed on borrowing scenes from other films. Slow motion walks down the aircraft carrier tarmac and pretty flyboys (and flygirls but thankfully not flydrones) drinking cocktails don’t exactly scream originality. Close computer eye shots, people talking behind curtains in silhouette and EDI reading lips can only mean that someone has seen 2001 a few times. Even dismissing the similarities, the tone and banal dialogue of the conversions between Gannon and EDI may have Artificial Intelligence in the soul but these scenes have no heart or inventiveness. Few films can succeed with an inanimate object as the star and here the film dies a slow death with its lack of emotion. The pilots and commanders seem to utter techno babble through most of the film and EDI doesn’t exactly star with cracking dialogue. Maybe Cohen and his writer W.D. Richter (his first script in 10 years since Home for the Holidays) had a video game vision? Gamers would love the idea of taking their stealth bomber all over the globe, flying through gorgeous narrow canyons, and bombing the crap out of random secret military installations without all of the messy character background and development.
The scary thing remains that it’s almost likely to get similar images and the same jingoistic lingo of the film on CNN but at home it’s possible to hit the remote while those watching the film will have to stealthily exit the theater.