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~Review by Grawlix (December 2017)
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head, where a fragment keeps playing over and over, and the only way to exorcise it is to finally listen to the whole thing, even if you know you’ll hate it? Stealth was like that for me. I don’t know if it was the trailer, or just some random things I’d heard about it, but it just kept turning up like a bad penny whenever I thought about movies to watch. Well, finally I decided to take the plunge. Stealth has been viewed. Hopefully it will torment me no longer.
Twenty minutes into the future, a crack trio of US Navy pilots are at the pinnacle of modern combat avionics. Iron Eagles, they are. Top Guns, if you will. Piloting the latest bleeding-edge military aircraft, they are synchronous and efficient, eliminating top level, unequivocal, and irredeemable threats to national security while keeping collateral damage to near zero, even aborting missions when the threat of innocent loss of life is too great (this is a sci-fi movie after all). Their harmonious group dynamic is threatened, however, when they are assigned an ultra-high-tech Artificial Intelligence plugged into an even higher tech stealth fighter as their new wing- uh… bot. Initially coldly effectual, the AI begins to show more erratic tendencies after being struck by lightning (seriously) during a landing approach. Soon the AI is disobeying orders, taking out targets on its own initiative with no regard for civilian casualties, all while blasting music illegally downloaded from the internet. (This was one of those plot points that I had heard about and just had to see to believe. And, yup, it’s in there.) I won’t give away more, not like anybody would have trouble seeing any of the twists coming. There’s a mostly pointless romance subplot that exists just long enough to fuel the ridiculous final act. Bad guys are killed. Noble guys are redeemed. Freedom rings! Or something.
Back in 1994, ten years before Stealth was released, an anime named Macross Plus explored the idea of elite test pilots competing against an AI driven fighter plane. There was interpersonal conflict, a love triangle, and even a kickin’ ultra-modern soundtrack. I’m not suggesting that Stealth ripped off Macross; artificial intelligence, drones, and the military applications of robots were firm parts of conversations on modern warfare prior to 2005. What I am saying, though, is that the bar for this kind of material was already set pretty high long before Stealth was released and Stealth doesn’t clear it. It doesn’t even come close and, in fact, doesn’t really seem to try. The plot is cookie cutter, the characters are stock, and even the HAL 9000 (complete with red orb optics) by way of Johnny-5 AI, who we’re told represents quantum computing power that is orders of magnitude above that of any human, doesn’t really have anything interesting to say in his digitally processed voice. If there’s one good thing I can say about Stealth, it’s that the aerial battle scenes are cool, even though they seem to be mostly CGI (Oh, the irony. And, almost purely by default, the most interesting, if completely unintentional, statement made here.) and the movie’s concept of dogfighting is something like 30 years out of date.
I’d originally dismissed Stealth as disposable entertainment. It is disposable entertainment, but it’s a strange sort of disposable entertainment. It’s not unusual for studios to crank out a quick star vehicle to capitalize on an actor’s surging popularity. This would have explained the casting of Jamie Foxx, fresh off his Oscar winning turn in Ray, but strangely, his character is not at all the main focus here. Rather, the movie is mostly carried by the other two, notably less bankable stars, Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel. A confusing choice, sure, though it’s not like it’s a particularly character driven flick. Then there’s the matter of its astounding $135 million budget, a hefty sum today, much less in 2005. (The movie ended up tanking hard, making roughly half of it back in worldwide gross.) The best explanation I can come up with for Stealth’s existence is that it was subsidized by the US Navy. Consider: There are myriad loving shots of military hardware and rank-and-file soldiers adeptly going about their duty. A sleazy, shadowy politician gets his comeuppance. There’s even a scene where an obviously liberal computer programmer gets a dressing down from a stern military man. Seen in this light, Stealth, feels like less of a movie and more like a recruitment tool. Computers may be useful, but nothing will ever replace the morality, grit, and determination of flesh and blood soldiers, right? Yvan Eht Nioj!
Final Score: C
It’s either a middling popcorn action flick, or the most elaborate (and expensive) military recruitment commercial ever made. You decide.
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