Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines features Owen Wilson running. He runs through the woods. He runs from the enemy. He runs through a minefield. He runs through the snow. If there were any more running in this picture I'd guess it was another Prefontaine bio-pic.

The plot involves a standard-issue Navy pilot loose cannon, Chris "Longhorn" Burnett (Wilson), who is stranded in Bosnia (as one might guess from the title) behind enemy lines. During a Christmas recon mission, Burnett and his pilot stray off course and take pictures of something important. At one point it's military positions and at another it's mass graves, but this is least of the film's problems. Their plane is shot down and Burnett does the aforementioned running. Back on the aircraft carrier his commanding officer (Gene Hackman) grimaces and bears the strain of command.

All of it is just silly. Wilson comports himself well as always, but then again he emerged fairly unscathed from The Haunting and Anaconda. Hackman, on the other hand, turns in one of the boat-payment performances he's been doing for so long that it becomes surprising when he handles something like Heist well. Joaquim De Almeida (Desperado) and Vladimir Maskov (15 Minutes) play the villains for Hackman and Wilson respectively. Both do their jobs well but it's no use.

Anything they do right is lost in the hamfisted direction of first-timer John Moore. Mainly a commercial director, Moore has no clue how to stay interested in anything for more than thirty seconds. The shiny SUV and stylish jogging suits look oh-so-enticing, but the action is muddled and confusing. We see Wilson running through a forest and soldiers tromping through the woods looking for him, but there is no indication as to how close they are. Conversations occur while the camera spins around two characters at a dizzying speed. The camera never sits still.

In one scene, Burnett darts about an abandoned factory compound alone and undetected, but the camera follows him in a hand-held documentary style, giving the impression that he is being watched. With this kind of wrongheaded thinking from the director, even potentially interesting sequences have no tension. When Burnett hides from his pursuers in a mass grave, instead of putting the audience down in the corpses and muck while the enemy soldiers stick bayonets perilously close to our hero's face, we see the scene on a thermal satellite picture, so it looks like an Atari 2600 game.

The only interesting part of the film comes too late to save it. Burnett is rescued by some Bosnian rednecks (I'm serious). Of course, if you know anything about rednecks you know that their children rebel by listening to gangsta rap. Just such a redneck scion befriends Burnett over a conversation about Ice Cube and gun calibers. Daniel Margolius, who plays this kid, is great. He's what would have happened to Silent Bob's buddy Jay if he'd grown up in the midst of insane political turmoil rather than Jersey.

Even this little glimmer of interest is squelched by a return to the regularly scheduled action mess. Wilson runs around and the bad guys shoot at him. Yes, if the bad guys could actually shoot straight the movie would be over too early, but these guys are a joke. They miss with machine guns and rifles and tanks. At one point Burnett even charges back into enemy fire and still escapes with only the scratch he got when he punched out at the start of the film.

I will readily admit I know very few details of any kind about the Bosnian situation but after this film I think I know less. I learned that conflict is between guys in uniforms who talk in subtitles and are bad, and guys who dress like Americans, speak almost flawless English and love American popular culture. Call me a cynic, but this is too simple even for an American action picture.

Overall what could have been a mediocre action thriller becomes a wretched picture with some guns and a whole lot of running.

What's It Worth? $3.99

Jordan Rosa

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