In a world where mindless action movies are a dime a dozen, in a season when the testosterone flows like water, in an industry where mediocrity is all too often praised, one filmmaker dares to change forever what we mean when we say “lowest common denominator.” Seven months into the year he presents us with a solid candidate for The Worst Movie of 2005 — a film so cosmically god-awful that it raises the bar for such upcoming titles as The Dukes of Hazzard, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo and Super-Cross.
These contestants will have an uphill fight to get anywhere near the mind-numbing ghastliness served up at ear-splitting, headache-inducing volume by Stealth‘s Rob Cohen — a filmmaker who makes Michael Bay look positively accomplished.
How bad is Stealth? So bad that I now feel like I was too harsh on The Island. Cohen’s last batch of cinematic swill, xXx, arrived at theaters with instructions to set the volume at the level marked “Bleeding From the Ears.” No such instructions accompanied Stealth, but even without goosing the volume, it’s a DTS/THX state-of-the-art experience of uncommon painfulness. In a way, that’s only apt, because it suits the movie down to the ground.
It would be impossible to catalogue everything that’s wrong with this film, but it starts with a screenplay by W.D. Richter, who hasn’t had a screenplay produced in 10 years. If this is the level of writing we can expect, I hope to be spared for another decade, at the bare minimum.
Without even getting into Richter’s story line itself, we’re talking about a man who has dubbed his super-secret, incredibly intelligent, talking, Napster-loving, unmanned, sure-to-go-rogue war plane “Eddie.” Why? Because that’s a loose pronunciation of the acronym “E.D.I.,” standing for “Extreme Deep Invader” (which sounds suspiciously like something one might buy in a very specialized novelty shop).
Richter has also given Jamie Foxx’s character the name Henry Purcell (presumably no relation to the Baroque period English composer). Since the film likes pilfering from Stanley Kubrick movies, a case could be made that the name is a deliberate reference to A Clockwork Orange, which uses Purcell’s “Funeral March for Queen Mary” on its soundtrack. But that just seems too arcane to hold even the methane gas that powers Eddie — and the movie overall.
Then there’s the plot itself, an incoherent conglomeration of Short Circuit, War Games, Top Gun, 2001 and Behind Enemy Lines. That last named, in particular, should make you suspect that the movie’s going to be just bubbling over with jingoistic claptrap — and it does not let you down in this regard. What may surprise you, however, is the degree of arrogance and stupidity at work here.
The idea was to take a B-list cast (Jamie Foxx obviously either made, or committed, to this prior to his Oscar-win) of Mod Squad mix — one white, one black, one blonde (no bets on which one won’t be alive by the final reel) — and pit them against a robot airplane that flips out and decides to take the problem of terrorism into its own wings. As bad as that sounds, the results are even worse.
It’s been a good 50 years since anyone structured a movie that so cried out for inter-titles of the “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” variety — only here it would have to be: “Meanwhile, back in North Korea,” “Meanwhile, on a secret air base in Alaska,” “Meanwhile, on the aircraft carrier,” “Meanwhile, in the shadowy corridors of powers in D.C.,” “Meanwhile, in a disused high-rise in Rangoon,” “Meanwhile, in the men’s room of the Moose Lodge in Upper Sandusky,” etc. (OK, I made up that last one.)
The dialogue is undeliverably horrible, consisting of dreadful exposition, brain-damaged speechifying, macho posturing and silly innuendo aimed at the level of adolescent boys who giggle over words like “nipple.” No one in this film sounds even vaguely like a human being — including the talking airplane, who (which?) says things like, “Eddie is a warplane. Eddie must have targets,” in an imitation-Hal 9000 voice.
Anything remotely resembling logic is nonexistent. Our heroes’ test-flight with Eddie turns into an antiterrorist mission to blow up a high-rise in Rangoon where three “known terrorists” are meeting “in 24 minutes.” Even with expressed concerns about “collateral damage” — coming from that silly girl pilot, of course — it’s a bit hard to swallow the idea on at least three counts. But, hey, the damned thing’s in Rangoon and who really cares about casualties and property damage there? If this sounds disquietingly familiar, that’s perhaps because it’s a bit too close to Team America — only with a straight face.
It gets worse. Later wholesale carnage includes blowing up a large chunk of a former Soviet territory (despite that pesky girl complaining, “They’re farmers, Ben! Farmers!”), shooting down some Russian jets (aren’t they on “our side” these days?), and destroying a good portion of North Korea. But once again, who cares about those foreigners? After all, our heroes are Americans — even the talking plane is — and that makes it all right, right? That’s certainly the message being put forth here. No wonder the rest of the world loves us so much.
Quite apart from the sheer loathsomeness of the film’s message, Stealth is a cornucopia of cliches, contrived exploitation bits and questionable science. Why, for example, does a robotic plane have a cockpit? Oh, of course, someone’s going to end up having to fly the renegade plane before the movie’s over! Why is the movie padded out with a pointless trip to Thailand? Oh, right, we get to put Jessica Biehl in a bathing suit (that frankly doesn’t fit very well) and Josh Lucas in a pair of shorts so indecorously low that a waxing job must have been essential. And did you know that if you bail out of a plane seconds before it explodes, the flaming debris will not be blasted outward, but will rain straight down on your parachute? I bet even Isaac Newton was unaware of that.
Rated PG-13 for intense action, some violence, brief strong language and innuendo.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke