Behind Enemy Lines

As we have been reminded time and time again since September 11, the world as we know it has changed. Even in the way that Hollywood does business. Several high-profile films were pulled from release and locked up when it was determined that their subject matter might not be sensitive to the current climate.


So now comes “Behind Enemy Lines,” a 2002 release that was rush-released in theaters to take advantage of the current patriotic fervor. Developed and shot long before September 11, “Behind Enemy Lines” is a real flag waver, a cinematic recruiting poster that shamelessly borrows from “Top Gun” and other films.

“Behind Enemy Lines” also borrows from real life, but there isn’t one thing in the film that slightly resembles reality. Directed by former commercial director John Moore, “Behind Enemy Lines” plays like an expensive video game where the hero has nine lives and always wins.

Director Moore has a real hero in star Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, Armageddon), whose blonde hair, uncharacteristic good looks and cocky attitude make him the perfect choice to play Lieutenant Chris Burnett, a Navy navigator who doesn’t play by the rules. Call him Tom Cruise light.

Assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson in the Adriatic Sea, Burnett’s mission is to keep the peace over Bosnia as NATO works out a treaty. Fed up with being nothing more than a cop on the beat, Burnett submits his resignation to Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman), commander of the Vinson.

Burnett’s resignation is accepted, but not until he goes out on one final reconnaissance mission with pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht). The fact that it’s Christmas Day doesn’t send up a red flag, nor that Burnett can’t reach his family before he takes off. Then there’s Burnett’s insistence that they veer off course, only to spot Serbian war crimes and troop movement.

Burnett and Stackhouse are spotted and shot down behind enemy lines. Stackhouse is immediately captured by the Serbs, but Burnett manages to escape. Using his training and wits, Burnett manages to stay one step ahead of the Serbs, while back at the Vinson Reigart does everything within his power to bring his man home alive.

The script by David Veloz and Zak Penn is extremely pedestrian, relying heavily on cliches. Once Burnett finds himself “Behind Enemy Lines,” he does some remarkably stupid things. Instead of taking his cue from real life U.S. pilot Scott Grady, who was shot down over Bosnia in 1995 and managed to evade his captors until his rescue, Burnett breaks every rule in the book.

In order to create superficial suspense, the writers constantly force Burnett out in the open where he becomes an easy target. Fortunately, the writers also rely on the tired cliche where the enemy is so inept they that can’t hit Burnett, yet every time he pulls the trigger he hits his target.

Since we’ve seen most of this before (the “Missing in Action” series and “Rambo: First Blood” instantly come to mind), the trick is casting someone in the role of Burnett that we care enough about to sit through it again. Wilson, who was so disarming as a serial killer in “Minus Man,” is extremely likeable here. Wilson plays Burnett a lot smarter than the written word, so even when he’s portrayed as being reckless, we know he will persevere.

Hackman is okay as the commanding officer whose loyalty to his men betrays his personal feelings. Reigart’s attempt to rescue Burnett are thwarted by Admiral Piquet (Joaquim De Almeida) of NATO Naval Command, who believes the life of one man isn’t worth jeopardizing the peace treaty process. This subplot is a waste of time, since we know from the outset that Burnett will be rescued. It’s nothing more than masculine posturing by the writers.

Indeed, “Behind Enemy Lines” is all masculine posturing, a standard action film that lacks the mass appeal of “Top Gun.” “Behind Enemy Lines” was made by men for men who like to watch other men beat the odds. That’s fine, but too much testosterone can also be a bad thing. What the script needs is a good dose of humanity, something it sorely lacks.

The writers come close in a couple of scenes, including a humorous encounter between Burnett and a young Bosnian rebel into rap music, and an eerie high-tech scene involving a heat sensor and a pile of dead bodies. The rest of the film is so predictable it amounts to nothing more than a waiting game for it to end.

Moore, making his feature debut, doesn’t totally embarrass himself. “Behind Enemy Lines” isn’t a bad film, but it is not a very good film either. Moore uses cinematic tricks to engage us in the action, including unique camera angles that become part of the experience instead of just a calling card for a new director. The scenes where Burnett and Stackhouse attempt to outmaneuver two ground-to-air missiles are extremely gripping and intense.

You just wish the rest of the film had the same conviction.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Good

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Nicely rendered digital transfer features powerful, evoking blacks, pristine whites, excellent shadow definition, and sharp, vivid colors. There is the occasional glitch, but not nearly enough to take you out of the moment. Instead, appreciate the solid colors that rarely bleed and never fade, the excellent depth of field and attention to detail, and flesh tones that are both flattering and natural. Flawless print allows for a nearly flawless transfer.

HEARING: Excellent

5.1 English Dolby Digital Surround

2.0 English and Spanish Dolby Surround

5.1 English DTS Surround

Excellent 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix that captures the excitement and chaos of the film with a perfect blend of surround effects, ambient noise and rousing music. The front sound stage is constantly alive, and all channels sound terrific. The left-to-right stereo mix is natural with good definition, while the rear speakers purr with a strong blend of music cues, surround effects and natural ambient noise. Basses are strong and shake the windows, while middle and high ends are clean and pure. Dialogue mix is also strong and never leaves you wanting.

ORAL: Good

Closed Captions in English for the hard of hearing

Subtitles in English

COORDINATION: Good

Two feature-length audio commentaries, one featuring director John Moore and editor Paul Martin Smith. While these two manage to cover all of the bases, they do so with very little enthusiasm. Their commentary sounds more like an assignment than something they really wanted to do. There’s more enthusiasm in the second commentary track with producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey, whose use this as an opportunity to promote their careers. They’re a spirited duo, but don’t have much to add.

Deleted and extended scenes,

a collection of five scenes with additional commentary by Moore and Smith. No big deal, but in my book, the more the merrier.

Behind-the-scenes featurette that also serves as an excellent recruiting poster for the United States Navy. This 6-minute featurette takes us aboard the various Naval vessels the filmmakers were able to secure for use in the film, and for anyone who has never been aboard an aircraft carrier will find all of this fascinating.

Storyboard comparison feature that dissects the plane shooting down scene. This five minute feature also comes with optional commentary by the director and editors.

Teaser trailer of Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise

PROGNOSIS: Good

War is hell, this DVD isn’t.

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: BEHIND ENEMY LINES

BIRTH DATE: 2001

HMO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

PATIENT HISTORY:

As we have been reminded time and time again since September 11, the world as we know it has changed. Even in the way that Hollywood does business. Several high-profile films were pulled from release and locked up when it was determined that their subject matter might not be sensitive to the current climate.

So now comes “Behind Enemy Lines,” a 2002 release that was rush-released in theaters to take advantage of the current patriotic fervor. Developed and shot long before September 11, “Behind Enemy Lines” is a real flag waver, a cinematic recruiting poster that shamelessly borrows from “Top Gun” and other films.

“Behind Enemy Lines” also borrows from real life, but there isn’t one thing in the film that slightly resembles reality. Directed by former commercial director John Moore, “Behind Enemy Lines” plays like an expensive video game where the hero has nine lives and always wins.

Director Moore has a real hero in star Owen Wilson (Shanghai Noon, Armageddon), whose blonde hair, uncharacteristic good looks and cocky attitude make him the perfect choice to play Lieutenant Chris Burnett, a Navy navigator who doesn’t play by the rules. Call him Tom Cruise light.

Assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson in the Adriatic Sea, Burnett’s mission is to keep the peace over Bosnia as NATO works out a treaty. Fed up with being nothing more than a cop on the beat, Burnett submits his resignation to Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman), commander of the Vinson.

Burnett’s resignation is accepted, but not until he goes out on one final reconnaissance mission with pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht). The fact that it’s Christmas Day doesn’t send up a red flag, nor that Burnett can’t reach his family before he takes off. Then there’s Burnett’s insistence that they veer off course, only to spot Serbian war crimes and troop movement.

Burnett and Stackhouse are spotted and shot down behind enemy lines. Stackhouse is immediately captured by the Serbs, but Burnett manages to escape. Using his training and wits, Burnett manages to stay one step ahead of the Serbs, while back at the Vinson Reigart does everything within his power to bring his man home alive.

The script by David Veloz and Zak Penn is extremely pedestrian, relying heavily on cliches. Once Burnett finds himself “Behind Enemy Lines,” he does some remarkably stupid things. Instead of taking his cue from real life U.S. pilot Scott Grady, who was shot down over Bosnia in 1995 and managed to evade his captors until his rescue, Burnett breaks every rule in the book.

In order to create superficial suspense, the writers constantly force Burnett out in the open where he becomes an easy target. Fortunately, the writers also rely on the tired cliche where the enemy is so inept they that can’t hit Burnett, yet every time he pulls the trigger he hits his target.

Since we’ve seen most of this before (the “Missing in Action” series and “Rambo: First Blood” instantly come to mind), the trick is casting someone in the role of Burnett that we care enough about to sit through it again. Wilson, who was so disarming as a serial killer in “Minus Man,” is extremely likeable here. Wilson plays Burnett a lot smarter than the written word, so even when he’s portrayed as being reckless, we know he will persevere.

Hackman is okay as the commanding officer whose loyalty to his men betrays his personal feelings. Reigart’s attempt to rescue Burnett are thwarted by Admiral Piquet (Joaquim De Almeida) of NATO Naval Command, who believes the life of one man isn’t worth jeopardizing the peace treaty process. This subplot is a waste of time, since we know from the outset that Burnett will be rescued. It’s nothing more than masculine posturing by the writers.

Indeed, “Behind Enemy Lines” is all masculine posturing, a standard action film that lacks the mass appeal of “Top Gun.” “Behind Enemy Lines” was made by men for men who like to watch other men beat the odds. That’s fine, but too much testosterone can also be a bad thing. What the script needs is a good dose of humanity, something it sorely lacks.

The writers come close in a couple of scenes, including a humorous encounter between Burnett and a young Bosnian rebel into rap music, and an eerie high-tech scene involving a heat sensor and a pile of dead bodies. The rest of the film is so predictable it amounts to nothing more than a waiting game for it to end.

Moore, making his feature debut, doesn’t totally embarrass himself. “Behind Enemy Lines” isn’t a bad film, but it is not a very good film either. Moore uses cinematic tricks to engage us in the action, including unique camera angles that become part of the experience instead of just a calling card for a new director. The scenes where Burnett and Stackhouse attempt to outmaneuver two ground-to-air missiles are extremely gripping and intense.

You just wish the rest of the film had the same conviction.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Good

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Nicely rendered digital transfer features powerful, evoking blacks, pristine whites, excellent shadow definition, and sharp, vivid colors. There is the occasional glitch, but not nearly enough to take you out of the moment. Instead, appreciate the solid colors that rarely bleed and never fade, the excellent depth of field and attention to detail, and flesh tones that are both flattering and natural. Flawless print allows for a nearly flawless transfer.

HEARING: Excellent

5.1 English Dolby Digital Surround

2.0 English and Spanish Dolby Surround

5.1 English DTS Surround

Excellent 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix that captures the excitement and chaos of the film with a perfect blend of surround effects, ambient noise and rousing music. The front sound stage is constantly alive, and all channels sound terrific. The left-to-right stereo mix is natural with good definition, while the rear speakers purr with a strong blend of music cues, surround effects and natural ambient noise. Basses are strong and shake the windows, while middle and high ends are clean and pure. Dialogue mix is also strong and never leaves you wanting.

ORAL: Good

Closed Captions in English for the hard of hearing

Subtitles in English

COORDINATION: Good

Two feature-length audio commentaries, one featuring director John Moore and editor Paul Martin Smith. While these two manage to cover all of the bases, they do so with very little enthusiasm. Their commentary sounds more like an assignment than something they really wanted to do. There’s more enthusiasm in the second commentary track with producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey, whose use this as an opportunity to promote their careers. They’re a spirited duo, but don’t have much to add.

Deleted and extended scenes,

a collection of five scenes with additional commentary by Moore and Smith. No big deal, but in my book, the more the merrier.

Behind-the-scenes featurette that also serves as an excellent recruiting poster for the United States Navy. This 6-minute featurette takes us aboard the various Naval vessels the filmmakers were able to secure for use in the film, and for anyone who has never been aboard an aircraft carrier will find all of this fascinating.

Storyboard comparison feature that dissects the plane shooting down scene. This five minute feature also comes with optional commentary by the director and editors.

Teaser trailer of Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise

PROGNOSIS: Good

War is hell, this DVD isn’t.

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: BEHIND ENEMY LINES

BIRTH DATE: 2001

HMO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



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