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Stealth (2005)
Director: Rob Cohen

review by Alasdair Stuart

There's a purity to a really, really stupid B-movie. If a film presents itself with no pretensions other than to entertain, moves as quickly as possible and features as many explosions as possible whilst still maintaining its internal logic, then it becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. Or, something that is simply a massively stupid piece of escapist fun, and Stealth is certainly in the latter category.

The basic idea is, of course, simple: the US Air Force have perfected a rapid response, three-man tactical squadron designed to take the fight to terrorism wherever the terrorists may be. In a knowing nod to the ongoing troubles of the 'war on terror', a great deal is made about how this unit are capable of carrying out surgical strikes without any collateral damage. They're the best pilots in the air force, piloting state-of-the-art fighters and with billions of dollars of support behind them. They are, needless to say, the best of the best and three is their lucky number. Which is why none of them are happy when they find out they'll be getting a fourth squadron member. When they find out that fourth member is a fighter equipped with an onboard AI called EDI ('Extreme Deep Invader', honestly!) then their concerns turn less to how they'll cope with him and more to whether they're needed at all.

Needless to say, all does not go well and EDI goes haywire at the worst possible time. The squadron are forced to go after him and, in doing so, discover not only what it's like to fly against the best but also the true depths that the military establishment will go to cover for their mistakes. Joking aside, there are a lot of clever touches here. W.D. Richter's script lacks a little of the usual black humour his work is known for but Stealth makes up for this with an unusually smart and morally complex backstory. By halfway through the film it's clear to the pilots and viewer alike that EDI may be out of control but the establishment that created him, and by extension them, is really to blame. Good Night, And Good Luck (2005) it's not, but there's a refreshingly complex, cynical view of contemporary politics that raises this above the usual tub-thumping of the genre.

Of course, that all pales in comparison to how pretty it is... The action sequences are breathtaking; with the brutal anti-terrorist sortie that EDI loses control on turning into a rolling dogfight that crosses national borders (a moment of pure visual bravado occurs here as Cohen gives us a satellite's eye view of the fight). However, the most impressive sequence sees one squadron member refuelling from a remote controlled airship. Deliberately damaged by EDI, the airship has spread fuel all the way along its circular flight path, which he then ignites. The visual of the fuel vapour igniting in two directions around the circle as the plane frantically refuels is staggering and it's scenes like this that really raise Stealth above the norm.

The cast are also a cut above, with Josh Lucas turning in an unusually smart, considered performance as the squadron leader. Lucas is an unusual actor, with intelligence enough to carry off complex roles combined with the physical presence to make his action sequences believable. Jamie Foxx is clearly in a low gear throughout his scenes, but his work is amiable and nicely handled, whilst Jessica Biel is the least well served of the three. Biel's work on Blade Trinity proved that she's physically one of the most capable actresses working today and she has a ready intelligence that few of her major roles to date have engaged. Here, she's set up as arguably the best most and most intelligent pilot in the squadron, only to be reduced to an absolutely industry standard B-movie woman for the second half of the film. Required to do little more than look grubby and frightened, her character is effectively turned into a plot device to bring the second half in to land and it does her no favours. It should also be pointed out that, in this post Sarah Conner/ Buffy Summers age, it makes Stealth look dangerously old fashioned.

Ultimately, Stealth is huge fun. It's relentlessly, breathlessly paced, cheerfully goofy and has some genuinely surprising moments. Unfortunately, it never quite manages to rise above its B-movie roots, meaning that it remains simply fun instead of great fun. As it stands, this is one for the plane fans and anyone looking for a live action, straighter-laced version of Team America: World Police.
Stealth

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