Charleton Heston once remarked that the only acceptable villains left for Hollywood were Southerners, businessmen, small town politicians, and military men above the rank of Major. In the years since, Hollywood has added two more acceptable villains to that short list, space aliens and artificially intelligent machines. In Stealth, the villain is an artificial intelligence, and the result is a good example of the depths to which Hollywood has sunk with almost no politically correct real world villains left.
Directed by Rob Cohen (XXX, The Fast and the Furious), Stealth is about an elite Naval air unit of three pilots (Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, and Jamie Foxx) who learn that they are to be joined by an intelligent unmanned aircraft known as the Extreme Deep Invader. (Which sounds like a sex toy.) The pilots aren’t too pleased about this, and for a while Stealth goes through the motions of exploring whether machines can or should replace human judgement. But the movie never establishes enough credibility to seriously explore anything, and besides, any fan of classic Star Trek already knows the answer to that one.
Before you can say “Open the pod bay door, HAL”, EDI, or Eddie as the pilots have come to call him, has been “rewired” by a lightening strike, and has gone rogue, threatening to start a war. Captain Kirk would have dealt with this sort of thing by shorting Eddie out with illogic, but Stealth is an action movie, so dogfights and high octane aerial scenes are the order of the day.
The special effects in this movie are outstanding. A scene of Biel ejecting from a disintegrating aircraft is spectacular. (As is a scene of Biel in a bikini.) But no amount of visuals can save this movie because they are yoked to a corpse. The plot is lame, and Eddie is never for one moment credible. Yes, the future military will deploy a lot of UCAVs. But they won’t utter lines like “Eddie is a warplane. Eddie must have targets.”
A lot of the problem with Stealth is that it was conceived as an action movie, and not as a war movie. Cohen assembles all of the elements needed for a war movie, but never gets around to having a war, in part because he has no enemy. Using a real world adversary would presumably have been too controversial. Even the supposedly elite pilots don’t seem much interested in warfighting. (At one point they refuse a direct order to bomb stolen nuclear missiles because the radiation might endanger civilians.) Sam Shepherd, who will forever be remembered for having played Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, seems miscast as a rogue military commander who tries to kill his own pilots to cover up for the failings of his unmanned plane. It does not help matters that he is assisted by a shadowy defense industry tycoon called Dr Orbit, which sounds like a Bond villain who didn’t make the cut.
Stealth looks great, and was obviously an expensive movie to produce. But audiences are staying away in droves, and no one will blame them for that. Sony Pictures is going to lose a lot of money. It will be interesting to see if the collateral damage from this bomb includes anyone’s career.