Behind Enemy Lines

2001, Movie, PG-13, 95 mins


Moved up from its original 2002 release date to capitalize on post-World Trade Center patriotic fervor, this military drama is essentially a Chuck Norris movie with trendy production values. Idealistic young Navy pilots Burnett (Owen Wilson) and Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are cooling their heels aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson, which is cruising the Adriatic Sea as part of a NATO peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. After seven combat-free years in the service, Stackhouse is restless and Burnett has tendered his resignation, prompting gruff commanding officer Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman) to send them on a Christmas Eve reconnaissance mission over Bosnia: That'll teach the whippersnappers to complain they don't get to fly enough! The pilots decide to scare up a little adventure and deviate from their flight plan, whereupon their $40 million plane is shot out of the sky by heat-seeking missiles. Burnett and Stackhouse parachute to safety, but the injured Stackhouse is murdered by Serbian paramilitary forces while Burnett is off searching for higher ground from which to contact his superiors. And the chase is on: The callow Burnett is pursued by moustache-twirling Serbian leader Lokar (Olek Krupa) and his human hellhound, the Tracker (Vladimir Mashkov), across a war-torn landscape of blasted buildings, mass graves, treacherous minefields and traumatized civilians. Meanwhile, NATO bigwig Admiral Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida) is telling Admiral Reigart to sit on his hands; sending American troops to rescue his problem child could endanger a newly minted peace treaty. There's a reason the tone of Balkan films about the turmoil of the '90s leans toward pitch-black comedy — the grotesque absurdities of the conflict don't lend themselves to the clear-cut moral distinctions Hollywood filmmakers generally prefer. At the same time, gung-ho obedience to rules and regulations isn't cool enough for contemporary moviegoers, so this film contorts itself trying to celebrate military values through characters whose behavior would get them court-martialed in real life. Insolent flyboys ignore their flight plan and nearly cause an international incident. A veteran officer unhappy with his orders undermines them through media manipulation, then defies his superiors outright and imperils peace efforts. But that's okay, the movie assures us — the treaty was bogus and if the pilots had done as they were told, they wouldn't have accidentally uncovered evidence of war crimes. Sure, the film's flashy visuals (apparently geared to engaging video game-impaired attention spans) are entertaining, but its cynicism is distasteful. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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