By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 29, 2005
Remember the rocket-ship sounds you used to make as a kid? You built up a nice sloppage of phlegm and saliva deep in your throat, you sort of funnelized your mouth at an oblique angle with a little loose lip muscle for a vibratory undertone and then propelled a gust of breath out through the glop and upward with two lungs' worth of force.
Pccccchhhhhhhhhhkkkkowwwwwwwwwwww!!! is how it's spelled, although Webster's New Third has two more h's and one fewer w. Also there is some dispute among scholars as to the correct number of exclamation points.
At any rate: "Stealth" is one big Pccccchhhhhhhhhhkkkkowwwwwwwwwwww!!! of a movie.
That's all it is. A kid's rocket-ship sound for about two hours, some vapid people standing around trying to look interested, and a lot of unlikely computer-animated aircraft violating the laws of gravity on the screen. I kept ducking in the belief that with all that Pccccchhhhhhhhhkkkkkowwwwing!!! going on up there, surely gallons of atomized spit vapor would come spritzing in my direction.
The director is Rob Cohen, who's a kind of low-rent Don Siegel; that is, he makes fast, crude films without much in the way of finesse, counting on the enthusiasm of the actors to hustle the thing through the idiocies of plot and possibly hoping that, like Siegel, come three decades from now critics will remember him as a great artist. It won't happen. He's not. What he understands is what sells tickets: His last two speed machines were "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX." Now he's trying to make a hit -- not a movie, you understand, but a hit -- without Vin Diesel.
And he chooses . . . Josh Lucas? That guy who looks like Matthew McConaughey after too many spins in a dryer? Yep, that's whom he chooses. And you're telling me he's smart?
On the other hand, Cohen somehow got Jamie Foxx to sit still for a supporting role after two Oscar noms in the same year. Perhaps the deal was struck before fame came calling for him. If not, though, the question must be asked: Who's agenting Foxx? "Jamie, here's a great opportunity to cash in. You play the Noble Yet Comic African American Teammate Who Dies Early On while some wimpy white guy nobody ever heard of gets all the good lines!"
Memo to Jamie Foxx: New agent, big guy!
Anyhow, as Cohen sets it up from a script by W.D. Richter, Lucas, Foxx and Jessica Biel (quick, Alphonse, check her for a pulse!) play three hotshot naval aviators who are picked to fly a new super-smart fighter off carriers and deliver smart bombs down terrorist chimneys somewhere -- or anywhere -- in the Third World. But a fourth plane joins them. Its pilot is . . . a computer.
This is a hoary old shake, dating back at least as far as "2001: A Space Odyssey," where it was handled brilliantly, as all who remember the psycho computer HAL's bland, assuring, treacherous voice can remember: The Machine With a Mind of its Own. The same idea has driven films as disparate as "The Terminator," "WarGames" and "Saturn 3." It's not new. It's not interesting. I wish it would go away.
Well, there's a mild wrinkle in "Stealth," it must be admitted. It's not a big one, but let's give a little credit where due: The final alliance that triumphs over evil is somewhat surprising, as is the identity of that evil. Give Cohen two points. No, no, that's too many. Give him one point.
The movie alternates among three realities: One is a control room where technicians sit in the dark looking at glowing screens and uttering lines like "Falcon Three-Five, I have you vectored on a three-oh-seven heading." Then there's a little liberty sequence where the three amigos get to go to clubs or tour the Asian countryside in their dress whites exchanging no-brainer dialogue. The rest is pure cartoon. You watch video-game flying machines whiz through painted mountain valleys or down urban corridors, as various castles, buildings or armored vehicles blow up in miniature, the soundtrack is Pcccccchhhhhhhhkkkkkkowwwwing!!! the bejeepers out of your inner ear, your balance is slipping and you're wondering: Is Biel mechanical? She sure is attractive, but all the testosterone floating in the air seems to have caused her to hammer her performance into a little ball.
There's a final troubling issue. I understand it's only a movie and that nobody really got killed. But as this film plays out its endgame, it pretty much runs out of villains and so it stumbles to locate surrogates. Thus, it settles on the North Koreans. I am no fan of North Korea, as who would be but one of Kim Jong Il's masseuses? Still the movie concocts an escape-extraction gambit, where Lucas has to nab Biel from the evil commie North Koreans. This involves a lot of killing.
Really, was this trip necessary? As the Asian hordes fall to the guns of the Westerners, I kept thinking: They're not terrorists or poachers or drug dealers or kiddie-porn makers or any other class of okay-to-kill modern villains. They're simply officers and men of their country's army, doing their duty, following their orders. They don't deserve, even in fantasy, the mass slaughter dealt them by uncomprehending, pretty American movie kids who couldn't make a bed if they had to.
Stealth (117 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for computerized violence, cursing and sexual innuendo.