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Behind Enemy Lines

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Behind Enemy Lines

Starring: Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman
Director: John Moore
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: November 2001
Genres: Action, Suspense, War

*Also starring: David Keith, Gabriel Macht, Eyal Podell, Travis Fine, Elizabeth Perry, Joaquim De Almeida

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

"Behind Enemy Lines" is the perfect kind of movie for watching on TV after a big lunch some lazy weekend afternoon. Settle back into an easy chair or curl up on the couch and flip on the set. Enjoy the verbal sparring between soldiers Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman, and drink in the thrilling aerial chase scenes. Then, when Wilson gets caught behind enemy lines and the energy of the production fizzles away, you can catch a satisfying nap without missing a thing. Later, when you wake up, content and refreshed, you can satisfy your curiosity (if any) over what occurred while you were snoozing by finding a kid that sat through it and asking for a description. I guarantee that whatever the little one says will be at least as interesting as what happened onscreen.

As for those of you who choose to see the film in a theater, please find a comfortable position in your seat so that you don't snore too loudly when you nod off.

"Behind Enemy Lines" is an action flick that starts off wonderfully, then sputters and crashes into Cliché Country. The press notes claim that producer John Davis wanted to make a film that was "more than just action and pyrotechnics." Right. To reach such a lofty goal, Davis and company hired young director John Moore, because they saw his commercial for the Sega Video Game System during the 1999 MTV Video Awards and thought it was way cool.

Moore delivers exactly the movie you would expect from a director of a Sega ad, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, at least not in the early section of the film. The story begins with ace naval aviator Lt. Chris Burnett (Wilson) bristling at the restrictions of modern day warfare. Why must the politicians keep yapping when all he wants to do is fly his F/A-18 Superhornet jet into combat? His commanding officer, Admiral Reigart (Hackman), wonders if Burnett has what it takes to be a soldier.

After a tasteless John Denver joke and a snappy argument between Burnett and Reigart, the pilot takes off for a routine reconnaissance mission over Bosnia, where he spots and photographs some naughty goings-on. Viewers are treated to some exceptional flight scenes before Burnett is shot down and ends up running for his life. behind enemy lines. Reigart wants to race in and rescue his man, but the powers that be are even more rigid than the crusty admiral. When he threatens to violate orders, his right hand man, Master Chief O'Malley (David Keith), states, "They'll take away your command." "So be it!" spits Reigart, and you can almost feel Hackman's satisfaction in the knowledge that he is one of the only actors alive today who can get away with such an overblown, archaic line.

John Moore has a field day during these scenes, using all of his skills as a commercial director and all the hippest camera tricks to keep matters zipping along. It works. If the first third of "Behind Enemy Lines" was released as a video game, I'd buy it. Unfortunately, once Burnett crashes - behind enemy lines - Moore offers less. He falls back on extremely old tricks, including repeated images of the enemy using automatic weapons to fire thousands of rounds at Burnett before he finally gets one minor ouchey in the shoulder. Moore also comes up with a new, and particularly annoying, trick as well. On more than one occasion, he shows Burnett surrounded by enemy troops, then cuts briefly to Reigart, then right back to Burnett, who is now suddenly on different terrain with no bad guys in sight. Hack directors already have a laundry list of cheap ways to maneuver heroes past villains in action scenes. Shame on you, Mr. Moore, for providing them another cheat.

Aside from flashy visuals, all "Behind Enemy Lines" has going for it is its cast and the filmmakers keep this a two-man show. Gene Hackman is fine (is there anytime he is not?), but the demands of his role allow him to do little more than simmer and make speeches. Owen Wilson, writer/actor/producer extraordinaire, is given considerable more leeway and invests his character with as much color as possible. Still, I remember the test the late film critic Gene Siskel would put to a moviegoer: Which would be more entertaining, watching these actors in this film or listening as they talked while having dinner? Without question, I would rather watch Hackman and Owens eat and chat than see them waltz through a throwaway offering like "Behind Enemy Lines."

Unless it's a Saturday afternoon and I'm sleepy, of course.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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