Have we learned nothing from The Matrix, The Terminator, WarGames, Demon Seed, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Colossus: The Forbin Project? Artificially intelligent computers always turn evil and try to destroy the world. Did nerd extraordinaire Lenny von Dohlen fight his malevolent PC for the love of Virginia Madsen in Electric Dreams for nothing? Apparently so, because here it is 2005 and--according to the new action film Stealth--the U.S. military has constructed a stealth fighter plane armed with nuclear missiles and an artificially intelligent computer “brain” capable of learning and evolving. Can anybody see the flaw in this plan?
Directed by Rob Cohen (xXx, The Fast and the Furious) and written by W.D. Richter (director of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and writer of Big Trouble in Little China), Stealth takes us into the “near future” (as the pre-credit title card handily informs us) where three hotshot Navy pilots have been recruited for a top secret project. Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama) is the skeptical tough guy in charge. Kara Wade (Jessica Biel, “7th Heaven”) is the token hot chick. Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx, Ray) is the fast-talking ladies' man. Although they've been recruited to fly the Navy's coolest newest assault planes--nicknamed Talons--the pilots soon find out they've got a new wingman. “EDI” is an artificially intelligent unmanned aerial combat vehicle. He's better, faster and smarter than the human pilots--which doesn't exactly bode well for their job security.
But not to worry. On their first mission--bombing a terrorist enclave in Myanmar--EDI is struck by lightning, scrambling his electronic brain and turning him evil. ... Now, before we proceed, lemme get this straight: Somebody spent $50 billion dollars building an artificially intelligent airplane and it never crossed their mind that the thing might get struck by lightning? Well, nobody ever accused the builders of these technological affronts to God and Nature of having much foresight.
To his credit, Lt. Gannon has reservations about electronic top gun EDI from the get-go. (Perhaps the machine's penchant for listening to Incubus tunes was the giveaway.) When EDI decides, on his own recognizance, to start vaporizing nuclear targets around the world, naturally, it's up to Gannon and his human compatriots to stop him.
Far-fetched (yet familiar) story aside, the film tries its best to make everything feel slightly real. Writing, directing and acting are all rather understated, which is a blessing for a film that could easily have been ludicrously over-the-top. (I'm looking at you, Michael Bay.)
The cast is made up of some decent actors. I'm not sure what Jamie Foxx thinks he's doing here, following up his Oscar-winning turn in Ray playing comic relief second banana to a talking airplane. But he's a welcome face among a lot of unfamiliar actors. Well-regarded actors Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff) and Joe Morton (The Brother From Another Planet) are also appreciated additions. In fact, only Richard Roxburgh (star of Van Helsing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and my vote for the worst Australian actor ever) manages to squeeze in a moment or two of wild overemoting as a crazy computer programmer.
Of course, it's action--not acting--that's the main draw here. And it's in this department that Stealth really delivers. The high-flying action sequences are as well-choreographed as any I've seen. The camera whips along with the sexy, sports car-like planes, zooming in and out of cockpits and sailing over mountaintops at blistering speeds. Cohen is a reliable director and his action sequences are well-constructed. Cohen still knows how to fetishize an explosion, and his big booms are lovingly rendered in full-screen slo-mo--unlike the rapid-cut, headache-inducing, video game-inspired work of certain other directors. (Michael Bay, I'm not done with you.)
Narratively, the film has a few slow points. The romance between Gannon and Wade is as obvious as it is unnecessary. (Or, as the guy behind me in the theater griped, “It started out good with the flying, but now it's all mushy.”) A third act twist--which I won't bother to reveal--is silly but expected. In fact, no points will be awarded for guessing who lives, who dies, who turns out to be bad, who turns out to be good and who falls in love with whom. Just strap in and let the blood rush out of your brain for some jet-propelled, popcorn-fueled excitement.