"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,
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