'Stealth': Plane Stupid

A squadron of fighter pilots gets a new wing man  --  a robotic one  --  in
A squadron of fighter pilots gets a new wing man -- a robotic one -- in "Stealth." (Digital Domain/columbia Pictures)

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By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 29, 2005

The real star of "Stealth" -- a movie about a trio of hotshot Navy pilots that is so clueless it makes its best actor, Jamie Foxx, play dispensable sidekick to Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel -- isn't even a person. He's a machine: in military parlance, an unmanned combat aerial vehicle, or UCAV, programmed with artificial intelligence that allows him to learn on the fly, so to speak, as he trains with his reluctant human counterparts. In other words, he's a smart robot plane.

Make that smartass, since, if he were a person, he'd be a 15-year-old boy.

Definitely a boy. Nicknamed "Eddie" after his other acronym, EDI (which stands for Extreme Deep Invader), this piece of high-tech military hardware speaks with a male voice that sounds suspiciously like that of the HAL 9000 computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Didn't the guy who designed him ever see that movie? Apparently not. Otherwise he would have known that machines that talk like creepy massage therapists do not inspire confidence in those who work with them. Clearly, the guys who made this movie (director Rob Cohen and writer W.D. Richter) did see the 1968 film, since they rip it off liberally, along with such lesser fare as "Top Gun," "Behind Enemy Lines" and the 1980s talking-car TV show "Knight Rider."

How else is EDI like a teenage boy? He downloads music off the Internet (with a special affinity for bad, headbanger rock 'n' roll), has poor impulse control and disrespect for authority, and imitates the risky behavior of others (in this case, Lucas's brash, glory-hogging fly boy, Ben Gannon) without regard for consequences. The only thing missing are zits.

It's not inappropriate that EDI -- who goes AWOL with a plan to attack a military target in Russia that doesn't even exist and then has to be reined in by his human chaperones, one of whom gets shot down over North Korea and has to be rescued -- is an adolescent male. After all, the movie itself is a kind of adolescent male fantasy, with cool gadgetry, a smokin' hot babe and awesome explosions. Even I will admit that one special-effects kaboom in particular, involving a leaking airborne fuel plane, was, as the kids of today say, money . (Do they even say that anymore?)

As for the rest of the movie, it's as silly as the name of the scientist who built EDI: Dr. Keith Orbit (Richard Roxburgh). And no, that's not his real name. He changed it, we're told, from something else. From what? Dr. Strangelove?

Oh, "Stealth" tries to take the high ground every once in a while, masking its inanity, as sci-fi films often do, with such jargony gobbledygook as "pulse detonator," "neural network" and "war vector scenario." (Or something like that. The dialogue is often drowned out by engine noise.) It also tries, briefly, to reach out to the grown-ups in the audience by having Ben pontificate about the cruel realities of war, saying, "I don't think war should become some kind of video game."

The problem is that's exactly how "Stealth" treats war. It's loud, has a crunching soundtrack, lots of photogenic destruction of life and property, and no one -- well, almost no one -- gets hurt in the end.

"It's a bag of chips," says Ben, in disgust, about EDI.

I could say the same thing about "Stealth," but I wouldn't use the word chips.

STEALTH (PG-13, 117 minutes) -- Contains violence, occasional verbal obscenity and an obscene gesture. Area theaters.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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