December 6, 2001

Leave Them Behind

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“You don’t get to pick the fight. The fight comes to you.”

Lines like these, as well as the ludicrous sequence of exasperating babble that immediately follows, make me feel sorry for the $8.00 with which I had to part at the theater. Behind Enemy Lines stars the bleating Owen Wilson, who I suspect was not producer John Davis’ first choice for the role, and the respectable Gene Hackman, who provides the only merit to this illogical war story that almost makes Kazaam look like Gladiator. The “film” is directed by John Moore, who specializes in television commercials. And, to put it bluntly, it’s easy to see why. This film tries a little too hard to be daring with its camera movements and fails on all cinematic levels, from its script to its acting, from its cinematography to its direction. As Hackman says early in the story, “Everyone has a role to play,” but in Behind Enemy Lines, no one succeeds in this endeavor.

The basic plot of self-endurance, survival, and loyalty certainly has plenty of potential, but writers Zak Penn and David Veloz fail to capitalize on this formula. The story follows the young and ambitious naval aviator Chris Burnett (Meet the Parents’ Wilson), whose unruliness on board the USS Carl Vinson, in a scene that fails with shameless John Denver and Cast Away jokes, foreshadows the audience’s less than mediocre viewing experience. Burnett, disillusioned and on the verge of withdrawal, teams with his partner Stackhouse on a holiday recon mission over Bosnia. Burnett’s desire for adventure leads them to stray over an unchartered, no-fly zone that allows their observation of Serbian troop movements and illegal mass graves.

In the most gripping sequence of the film, the plane, an F-18 Superhornet, unsuccessfully attempts to acrobatically evade missiles and is shot down. The stern Admiral Leslie Reigart, played by the commanding on-screen presence of Hackman, vows to bring back his pilot but is blocked by a conflict with his NATO supervisor, Admiral Piquet. This sets up plenty of anticlimactic scenes of overdramatic acting on the ship and an improbable cat-and-mouse chasing game in the forests of Bosnia. I shouldn’t forget to mention that the sly and stupid assassin chosen to follow Burnett is named Tracker. Clever, huh?

It is revealed to us early on that Burnett has the remarkable ability to dodge bullets, not to mention the assault of a large group of angry men with tanks, rockets, and the like. It is also revealed to us that Burnett isn’t too bright. After all, this trained officer lets out a scream that allows his pursuers to initially locate him. Without this scream, the movie would have lasted twenty minutes. If Wilson’s acting performance in this film is any indication, I’d bet the small amount of money this movie will garner that he is less than six months away from his first starring role in a late-night Cinemax feature. Hackman, on the other hand, should regret saying “yes” to the role, only because his superior acting ability did not deserve to be squandered.

The overall cinematography is deplorable. The shaky camera movements add to the headache that the inappropriate, alternative music adds to this war flick. The camera is so unstable that an apt title would have been Blair Witch in Bosnia. The film’s faults begin with its script, and nothing can save it from that. I was reminded of a cheap cartoon during a scene in which the non-Bond-like Burnett slides spectacularly, and absurdly, across a layer of ice, while shooting “the bad guys” with incredible aim, while they, with their extensive weaponry, succeed in firing at everything but him. How convenient. The film is absorbed by such senselessness, and I’ll let the two or three of you who, in a drunken mistake, wander into this movie instead of the much more appealing Harry Potter discover this for yourselves.

Behind Enemy Lines could have truly showcased the inner strength of U.S. soldiers, a morale-boosting piece in light of the current war efforts. Instead of being treated to an audacious story of intense warfare and what it takes to “be prepared” and to “evade and survive,” we are forced to watch almost two hours of a poorly directed attempt to create something edgy and exciting. Being behind enemy lines is as tough as being paired with a hopeful audience and this excuse for a movie. And thus, my awarding of one tower should be considered a nice holiday gesture.

Archived article by Avash Kalra