Behind Enemy Lines

on November 30, 2001 by Tim Cogshell
The Serb-Croatian-Bosnian conflict is the setting for "Behind Enemy Lines," so at least the war is real. Actually, there's not much about that war that's real in this movie either. The war happened; they got that right. There were atrocities, including mass grave sites--which motivates the action in this film. Yet somehow the filmmakers still managed to create a fundamentally artificial war movie.

Owen Wilson ("Shanghai Noon") plays Lt. Burnett, a hotshot Top-Gun navigator with an attitude. He's angry because he's not being allowed to fight, since we're not hosting this particular war--only attending as guests of the United Nations. The USA is reduced to operating as tools of a NATO Command, dropping the occasional bomb, but mostly it's drills and football on the deck of their aircraft carrier. Burnett and his pilot, Lt. Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht), are also occasionally allowed to take pictures while flying reconnaissance in narrowly designated areas.

Nearing the end of his tour-of-boredom, Burnett convinces Stackhouse to take a detour from their designated recon route and checkout some suspicious movements showing up on radar. It's disobeying orders, but that's required in all hotshot flyboy movies. And it helps diminish any residual credibility. They're shot down, obviously, in an excellently staged air-to-air combat sequence. Burnett finds himself on the run from a band of renegade Serbian troops--a particularly nasty fellow with a high-powered rifle in hottest pursuit.

Gene Hackman, as an Admiral and Carrier Group Commander for whom Burnett flies, does a reprisal of his performance in "Crimson Tide." He's slightly less crazy, but just as gruff. The Admiral's attempts to mount a rescue are hampered by a NATO Commander's completely legitimate concerns over fragile peace talks. Thus the lone American flier must traverse half the Bosnian countryside with nothing but a radio, while a nut with a rifle and half the Serbian army is on his ass.

"Behind Enemy Lines" is a cry for whatever untapped patriotism left in reserve to be released at the box office. It works for a while, despite the truly bad filmmaking clich├ęs-- jump-cuts, repetitive chase sequences, silly dialogue--and the dreadful miscasting of Owen Wilson. Still, it serves its purpose as an action-packed flag-waver. Starring Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Joaquim De Almedia, David Keith, Travis Fine, Eyal Podell, Charles Malik Whitfield, Valdimir Mashkov and Olek Krupa. Directed by John Moore. Written by David Veloz and Zak Penn. Produced by John Davis. A Fox release. Action/Drama. Rated PG-13 for war violence and some language. Running time: 105 min

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