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"I won an Oscar.
Why am I here?"

© 2005, Columbia Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Eager to cut down on war casualties, the U.S. government (led by Sam Shepard) has invented "EDI," a computer-run fighter jet that represents the top tier in technology and design. Out to baby-sit EDI are three pilots, Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas, the poor man's Don Swayze), Kara Wade (Jessica Biel), and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx). While initially skeptical about EDI's abilities, once they are put to the test in the terrorist-minefield called Earth, the pilots are awed by its dynamic flying and growing artificial intelligence. However, during a routine mission, EDI is struck by lightening and goes haywire, leaving the three pilots the only ones around capable of taking it/him down before he starts World War III.

After a promising early directing career with "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" and the underrated "Daylight," Rob Cohen found his monetary nirvana with the pandering, nightmarish "The Fast and the Furious." After hitting rock bottom with 2002's appalling, worst-of-the-year winner "XXX," Cohen reaches further into his bag of tricks and actually achieves the impossible: he's made a film that's much worse. This, my friends, is "Stealth" (IMDb listing).

"Stealth" doesn't aspire to be anything more than a numbing machine, built for the uninspired and the lazy. The film features Cohen taking what he's learned about empty-calorie, audience-pleasing dynamics from his last two moneymakers, and sticking those ideas to the most artistically bankrupt production he's managed to crank out yet. "Stealth" is so operatically ludicrous that it defies explanation in many instances, and I wouldn't want to spoil the film's "twists" for anyone. If there's justice in the world, I won't be spoiling anything; the sheer heat of incompetence radiating off this picture should do the trick.

"Stealth" couldn't even be described as a "video game movie," for that would be an insult to video games. No, the film is much more pedestrian than simply mimicking a video game. Cohen's vision for the film is to put the audience into the cockpit of these fighting machines as they cut the sky open with their speed. So how does Cohen simulate the chaos of flying? By treating his camera as if it insulted him. I failed to keep count, but I'm pretty positive there's not one cleanly shot, stable-camera moment in the entire film. All that's here is a shaky camera, continually convulsing to capture the heat of the moment, not allowing the audience to see one clear picture. I suggest you bring your Dramamine, for Cohen is relentless in making sure the audience feels every last moment of conflict through cheap camera and CGI tricks (many repeated from "Furious") that any real filmmaker would balk at. But Cohen's no real filmmaker; he's just a 56-year-old hack making cheap, empty thrill rides for 12-year-olds under the fraudulent guise of "popcorn cinema." He should have his DGA card revoked.

Of course, the chaos is also meant to cover many other things than simply the action. The performances by the cast are so singularly lousy that any still moment the camera has with a character is torture. But there's only so much blame one can assign to Cohen for the acting. Lucas, Biel, Foxx, and Shepard are all lost in a daze, performing with the kind of conviction that makes you realize there's no way they really read the entire script. The actors blindly go along with "Stealth," looking to Cohen to meet them halfway, but never really standing a chance. The talent is stuck trying to make sense out of a film with a killer airplane that speaks like one of the "Queer Eye" guys, and a finale that has Biel trying to outwit the North Korean military on foot (I'm not making this up folks).

As "Stealth" spirals out of control, an appreciation starts to set in (as if being slowly gassed) for what type of madness Cohen is actually trying to put onscreen here. There's a strange aside that has EDI being able to download songs ("all of them" is the line) and play them without explanation, which is Cohen's crafty way to sell a soundtrack. There's Jamie Foxx, who comes to "Stealth" after setting the world on fire with his Oscar-winning performance in "Ray." Here, he's the token "black guy," complete with a basketball and promiscuity issues, all the while blasting hip-hop. And then there's Cohen's final insult: the film discusses the moral quandaries of war, as if anything in "Stealth" is meant to reflect real life. Can a film have a debate about the harsh nature of combat while also including orgasmic, lingering shots of Biel in a bikini?

Running under two hours, "Stealth" feels like it rambles on for an eternity. Cohen is working with a paper-thin plot, and he manages to keep pushing it along, piling up the cliches and wide-eyed astonishments without shame. "Stealth" is a dreadful, forgettable, abusive motion picture, and it makes the January stinker "Alone in the Dark" look Kubrickian in comparison. Now that's an achievement.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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