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Wilson, Hackman wasted

Review: 'Enemy Lines' slam-bang silliness

By Paul Tatara
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- John Moore's "Behind Enemy Lines" is an implausible military technology adventure that takes about 10 minutes to get started, then climaxes for an hour-and-a-half.

Owen Wilson stars as Chris Burnett, a Navy aviator who's shot down and chased across the snowy Bosnian countryside while Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), his tough-love commanding officer, eggs him on with terse, walkie-talkie-fed instructions. Moore's idea of mixing it up is to alter the angle of the terrain Wilson plunges down while enemy soldiers try to kill him.

And, boy, do they ever try to kill him. Before it's all over, he'll have to sidestep more abrasion-raising assaults than Osama Bin Laden.

At the beginning of the picture, Burnett and his pilot/best friend, Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht), are frustrated by a situation that's come to be a staple of modern war movies: America's supposed refusal to let its armed forces win a conflict. More often than not, the "Why won't they let us win?" speech is connected to Vietnam -- remember how the spit flies when Sylvester Stallone delivers his address in "First Blood?" -- but an imaginary situation in Bosnia is "Behind Enemy Lines'" more topical substitute.

Zip and buzz

Watch the trailer for the new movie 'Behind Enemy Lines' starring Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson (November 28)

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Hackman, Wilson hit the deck for 'Enemy Lines' 
RESOURCES review: 'Behind Enemy Lines' 

Though they're first-rate warriors, Burnett and Stackhouse are being forced by command to merely scratch their itchy trigger fingers and fly non-explosive sissy missions in their F/A-18 Super Hornet. They champ at the bit for some action, and they get more than they hoped for when they intentionally fly off course and are shot down by a heat-seeking missile. Whoops.

A digitally generated sequence in which our heroes try to outmaneuver several incoming rockets is easily the best thing in the movie. Anyone who has more than one toddler, or has ever been chased down the street by crazy people, will be able to relate. No matter how the plane swoops and swerves, the missiles move in for the kill; at one point, the jet even scrapes along the treetops. Like every other action sequence shot in the past 10 years, it looks a lot like a Mountain Dew snowboarding commercial. But there's no denying the buzz it generates.

Once the plane crashes and Stackhouse is executed by a scowling sniper (Olek Krupa, channeling Darth Vader), Burnett is forced to run, jump, twist, turn, slither and leap across unforgiving terrain while half the artillery in Bosnia is lobbed at him.

Meanwhile, back on the aircraft carrier, Hackman barks orders at Wilson. The two have a history, of course. Shortly before wrecking his jet, Burnett handed in a letter of resignation. Admiral Reigart, a life-long military type, feels that the kid doesn't really know anything about sacrifice.

Well, he's on the verge of learning all about it, via clinically shot action scenes that are now the industry-accepted mating of "Saving Pvt. Ryan"'s realism and "Armageddon"-style sis-boom-bah. (See "Spy Games," if you must, for an exact duplicate of this film's look.)

Working hard at action

Wilson is a fine comic actor and one of the most delightfully talented writers in the business (he co-wrote 1999's "Rushmore," as well as the upcoming "The Royal Tenenbaums"). But his aw-shucks persona and seemingly ad-libbed one-liners are too likable to fit what can only be described as a Tom Cruise-y character.

Obviously, the producers knew they were rolling the dice a bit by casting Wilson. Though he's ready, willing and able, you still feel like you're watching him pretend to be an action hero, as opposed to actually being one.

That said, he really breaks his rear end in one of the year's most action-heavy roles. You still like Wilson for being so up to the challenge.

Hackman is also forgiven, because he's Gene Hackman, for God's sake. He's still the most intimate, immediately believable star in the business, even if his appearance here is basically a case of scowling for dollars.

He's barely involved for most of the film. Reigart is also too submissive to the higher-ups for way too long; you keep expecting Hackman to belt someone instead of backing down. Again, though, he's Gene Hackman, one of the cooler people on earth. In all likelihood, he'll be great next time around. And, in all likelihood, the time after that.

Don't let the "honor among soldiers" dialogue fool you: "Behind Enemy Lines'" excessive violence is designed solely to generate an adrenaline rush. There's so much attention paid to military hardware, a row of exploding rivets actually gets a close-up.


• 'Behind Enemy Lines' - official site

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