A review of  Behind Enemy Lines” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for violence, gunplay, intensity

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

 

 

Research shows that our country’s appetite for war films is increasing.  Anything depicting battle, with the U.S. coming out on top, is topically appealing. Hey, waving the red, white, and blue in the name of patriotic entertainment works for me.

Owen Wilson is extremely likable no matter what the role.  As a charming, self-effacing action hero he’s positively first-rate.  Wilson is Lt. Chris Burnett, a hotshot Navy flight navigator who’s fed up with reconnaissance missions that are nothing more than useless joyrides at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.  Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman), disgusted by Burnett’s cynical attitude, sends him up on a routine Christmas Day mission to teach him a lesson in humility.

The fly-by may be routine, but Burnett and co- pilot Lt. Michael Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) go rogue and take some incriminating digital photographs over Southern Bosnia. Less than amused at the American fighters’ shenanigans, Serbian soldiers take the plane down.  The aircraft is destroyed but the pair manage to eject at the last moment, landing smack in the middle of enemy territory.  When Burnett sets off for high ground to establish a stronger radio frequency, enemy troops assassinate Stackhouse.

 Suddenly it’s cat-and-mouse, with the intrepid Burnett struggling to survive the relentless pursuit of hostile Eastern European rebels and a ruthless secret police agent (Vladimir Mashkov) trained to kill. Meanwhile Reigart, hands tied as he cools his heels on a floating aircraft carrier, butts heads with NATO brass over a regulatory rescue operation as tension levels escalate.

It’s a bumpy road to Bosnia. Hyper-cool digital footage works in stark contrast to the straight-laced, heavily clichéd atmosphere of the Naval aircraft carrier. A stylistic ping-pong match that nonetheless gives off great energy. Burnett eludes his captors with stealth and brains, all modest cool under fire.  Missile sequence is terrific - a frightening, rip-roaringly realistic look at the calamitous destruction of a $40 million military fighter plane.  Serb, Croat, and Muslim soldiers jumble together into a threatening, nameless mass, but the fear is palpable. 

Hackman is not at his best as the stoic commander caught in the middle, but Wilson manages to carry the whole project on his handsome shoulders with self-deprecating humor and patriotic aplomb.  It’s not a moment too soon to celebrate an onscreen U.S. victory.