Mark Reviews Movies


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Moore

Cast: Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Joaquim de Almeida, David Keith, Olek Krupa, Gabriel Macht, Vladmir Mashkov

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for war violence and some language)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 11/30/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Keep John Moore away from any and all tracks, cranes, helicopters, etc., that would allow him to spin his camera around for shots. About a good five-eighths of Behind Enemy Lines is spent in a 360° rotation. After the third time I saw this kind of shot implemented, I just wanted to yell, "Stop it!" Alas, it did not stop, but that’s not the end of it. Moore, an obvious first-time director, uses camera tricks aplenty for no reason except to add some kind of flavor to this stale material. It doesn’t work. Behind Enemy Lines joins an exclusive club, whose other members include Pearl Harbor, of mindless action movies masquerading as war movies.

The plot: navigator Lt. Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) and his pilot Lt. Michael Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are shot down—you guessed it—behind enemy lines by a very, very determined surface-to-air missile (a little too determined, if you ask me). After Stackhouse is executed by a group of very, very determined bad guys (in this movie, the Serbs), Burnett is very, very determined to escape. Unfortunately, he’s being chased by a very, very determined sniper, and NATO Admiral Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida) is very, very determined to keep any American forces out of the area, lest the just implemented peace accord be ruined. Fortunately for him, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman, using the sketch of his character from Crimson Tide) is very, very determined to get Burnett out of there.

From this setup, we get a series of action sequences, so the structure of the movie consists of Burnett running, discovering and overcoming an obstacle, running, discovering and overcoming another obstacle, ad nauseam. The sequences themselves are quite typical. As I said before, the whole thing starts with a heat-seeking missile that manages to get past decoy after decoy and still hit its target. Then Burnett runs from lots of gunfire, which leads me to believe that he’s wearing the new military-issue force-field. As each sequence goes by, we’re finally led to a patch of thin ice where Burnett must wait to be picked up. This thin ice is set up so extensively that when it’s ultimately not used, I felt cheated. You don’t set up something that much and then forget about it. There’s a sequence in a small village beforehand, whose look is obviously inspired by (or stolen from) Saving Private Ryan. Once again, the MPAA apparently decided that a lower amount of blood and only two uses of a certain bad word were enough to get this one past with the PG-13 rating.

All the while, we’re stuck with music-video editing, a soundtrack that goes from techno to full orchestration depending on the moment, lots of slow motion shots, lots of times when the film is sped up, and, yes, lots of spinning camera. There’s even a scene where we watch a man being blown into the air by a land mine in slow motion. The shot harks back to Three Kings, except that Three Kings was making a point when it showed a bullet entering a body; Behind Enemy Lines is just trying to show off. Then there is the land mine sequence itself, which takes an instrument of terror and turns it into the device of an action sequence. Needless to say, my stomach dropped when I realized how the scene was going to be played. I was also a little less then impressed with the treatment of the backdrop of the movie. You can tell the bad guys because they wear berets, occasionally look like Nazis, sneer a lot, and speak in a strange, foreign tongue. The good guys wear normal clothes, speak English, drink Coke, and listen to hip-hop.

Behind Enemy Lines was reportedly released earlier than first-planned, and the idea of cashing in on our recent tragedy is a pretty sickening prospect. In this light, the movie is flag-waving claptrap—a self-congratulating mess of an action movie. I’ll be kind and call this Pearl Harbor lite, meaning it’s not quite as bad or exploitative as that movie, but it’s still pretty bad and exploitative.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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