At least the titles of Rob Cohen’s movies get to the point. “The Fast and the Furious,” swift cars driven by hotheaded speed freaks. “XXX,” the tag for an undercover agent going to the extremest of extremes.
Now comes “Stealth,” the story of fighter pilots hunting down their new “wingman” — a super-smart drone plane that has lost its marbles and skulked off to blow things up on its own.
The title refers to the drone’s super-sneaky technology, but of course, there is nothing remotely stealthy about the movie. It’s end-to-end explosions and weapons fire woven into a flimsy plot with stick-figure heroes and heavies who spout such techno-warrior babble as, “So this is one of those smart UCAVs?” or “It’s got a brain like a quantum sponge.”
As the main good guy, Josh Lucas has the same handsomely vacant presence Paul Walker projected in “The Fast and the Furious,” while Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx co-star in roles so bland, they barely register.
Clearly, Cohen does not want memorable characters distracting from his fast cars or faster planes.
Lucas’ Ben Gannon leads an elite threesome flying a new class of stealth fighters. Just as Ben, Biel’s Kara Wade and Foxx’s Henry Purcell are about to go active, their boss, Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard) informs them that they have another partner.
In a burst of annoying acronyms, Cummings introduces them to the UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), also called EDI (Extreme Deep Invader), “Eddie” in polite conversation. With a brain like an oversized bowling ball, Eddie is an artificial intelligence able to fly circles around human pilots and chat in a bad imitation of the HAL 9000 computer’s monotone in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Time and geography in the screenplay by W.D. Richter are compacted so the action seems to take place in little more than a night’s work, though locations range from Rangoon to North Korea to Alaska.
About a minute and a half into their first test flight with Eddie, Ben and his gang are called to emergency duty to take out terrorists plotting to attack the United States, the bad guys conveniently holed up within spitting distance.
The mission is accomplished to such perfection, our heroes bring down a terrorist-infested high-rise in the middle of a jammed cityscape with zero collateral damage. Eddie should be programmed to chant, “USA! USA!” at such news.
But lightning strikes Eddie on the way home, turning him into a self-aware warmonger hellbent on making things explode.
“Eddie is a war plane. Eddie must have targets,” the drone says, the plane’s simpleton phrasings reminiscent of Alex Karras’ big, dumb Mongo in “Blazing Saddles.”
“Stealth” hurtles about the skies at a frenetic pace, the camera work so busy and action close-ups so blurry, it’s often hard to tell what’s going on.
Beyond making each explosion bigger than the last, there’s little creativity to the whole ruckus. At one point, planes race at impossible speeds down a narrow canyon. Where have we seen that before, Mr. Skywalker?
Cohen’s combat sensibilities border on sadistic, human figures little more than mannequins to be flung about, particularly in an explosion at a hangar in Alaska.
The characters are a miserly lot, the movie serving up a few banal exchanges to establish the three human pilots’ one-for-all camaraderie and a painfully sappy unspoken romance between Ben and Kara.
Foxx’s Henry is a mildly buffoonish third wheel. If Foxx already had his Academy Award when this script came along, it’s questionable whether he would have picked “Stealth” as a follow-up to “Ray” and his other Oscar-nominated performance in “Collateral.”
As a hawkish officer fanatically determined to let his robot plane fly the unfriendly skies, Shepard makes a lousy Navy weasel. There’s something too noble about the cut of Shepard’s jib to make him credible as a heartless fiend, at least in the shallow dramatic depths of “Stealth.”
Shepard’s such a stereotype of the military madman, when he hears a U.S. plane has gone down in North Korea, he practically does a Homer Simpson “D’Oh!” in exasperation.
No one expects subtlety from Cohen. Yet the explosive action rises to such excess in “Stealth,” it makes you wonder if Cohen might dispense with all pretense at plot and character and just call his next movie “Boom.”