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Behind Enemy Lines

In the world post September 11, movie studios initially balked at releasing any movies they deemed potentially offensive. After a couple months, they found that Behind Enemy Lines tested well and they actually pushed up the release date. Aside from the timing, Behind Enemy Lines is a standard action movie, which means it is not that good. Because of the state of the world in which the movie is playing, it can be seen as either a great patriotic movie or shameless (unintentional) propaganda for the US military. Behind Enemy Lines recounts the efforts of Lt. Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson, Zoolander, Meet the Parents) to evade capture and return to friendly ground.

Burnett is a Navy pilot stationed near Bosnia. He is eager to make a difference, but rules hinder him from doing anything except flying reconnaisance missions. This disillusioned him so much that he tendered his resignation to Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman, Heist, Heartbreakers), who refuses to accept it until Burnett's tour is over. On a routine flight over Bosnia, Burnett notices something on his radar and goes off course to investigate. His plane is shot down, leaving him stranded in enemy territory. Wilson dodging multiple SAMs is the most thrilling aspect of the movie. Unfortunately, it lasts far too short, giving way to what amounts to a long obstacle course for Burnett. While he tries to make it to checkpoint after checkpoint, Reigart must try to arrange a rescue while dealing with politics.

Politics is what makes this film not achieve its potential. Aside from cryptic side comments and hints, Behind Enemy Lines virtually ignores all of the politics in the Bosnia conflict. It boils down to Burnett having pictures of mass graves, and a bunch of people, including a sniper (Vladimir Mashkov, 15 Minutes, An American Rhapsody) relentlessly trying to kill him. Including some historical and/or political background would make the movie infinitely more complex and rewarding, but it would muddle the simplistic story. Presumably, this is not the aim of screenwriters David Veloz (Permanent Midnight, Natural Born Killers) and Zak Penn (Inspector Gadget, PCU) off a story by Jim and John Thomas (Mission to Mars, Wild Wild West). Take a look at the credits on some of the films these writers made and it gives a good idea about the quality of this film. They want a straightforward good guy vs. bad guy story.

If anything, director John Moore raises the quality by his frenetic camerawork. Moore has a history in commercials, so he is used to capturing the attention of viewers in short snippets. As with every combat-centered film, the violence takes on a sense of realism that will inevitably be compared to Saving Private Ryan. The camerawork is gritty, with debris flying everywhere. The camera spins, zooms in and out quickly, and basically goes all over the place. It is flashy enough to distract people from the other shortcomings, one of them being a lack of a role for Hackman. He is a great actor with nothing to do. Wilson has it different. He has excellent skills in comedy. There is nothing in Behind Enemy Lines to flex his acting chops.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated PG-13 for war violence and some language.

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