I love movies. I love serious crime thrillers like Heat and Carlito's Way, dramas like Crash, comedies like Swingers, horrors like the Descent. I can appreciate an Oscar-winning performance from Denzel Washington in Training Day as much as Mickey Rourke's standout tour-de-force as Marv in Sin City, blockbusters like War of the Worlds and low budget independent productions like Garden State. As for cheesy action movies, well I love them too. There is a place in my heart for every popcorn flick that has emerged since the defining milestone - Top Gun. Recently, the action auteur Rob Cohen has emerged as a big player in the world of cheesy action movies, creating the likes of The Fast and the Furious and XXX. I actually like the former (despite the fact that there is simply no skill involved in driving a car really fast in a straight line for a quarter-mile) and liked Vin Diesel's charismatic performance in it. The latter, XXX, saw Diesel become too big for his own boots and simply disappointed me in the extreme, spending too much time mocking Bond whilst relying on the very formula that made Bond so popular to drive its flimsy story. Now Cohen has taken his love for speed and entered the world of futuristic fighter jets for Stealth, taking us full-circle back to where it all began (Top Gun) and - despite all of the critical derision that this movie has gained since its release, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Kicking off with a frantic desert mission, packed with blistering energy and landscape-hugging high-speed manoeuvres we are introduced to three pilots who are the best of the best of the best. Enlisted as part of a special ops flight program to fly cutting-edge technology hypersonic stealth fighters ('Talons') that are capable of being dispatched to any place on Earth at a moment's notice (thanks to SCRAM-jets that can get them up to speeds above Mach 5), they are a good team who work extremely well together. Lieutenant Ben 'Big' Gannon is the lead trigger, the cocky 'maverick' who always gets the job done and is ably supported by the other two: Lt. Kara 'Guns' Wade and Lt. Henry Purcell and, as a unit, they are all but unstoppable. Despite this, their Captain has plans to make the threesome into a quartet, initially throwing the existing members off-balance at the threat of an intruder into their tightly-knit-unit group. It turns out that the fourth member is not human, however, but a prototype Artificial Intelligence 'Extreme Deep Invader' (EDI). A fighter plane controlled by a thinking machine. Impressive as this may seem, it is inevitable that things will go wrong as the AI takes on a HAL-like demeanour and starts to pick its own targets. Now the three ace pilots have to use all of their skills not only to bring him down but also to prevent him from unleashing his payload on the wrong people and starting a third World War.
Though the trailer pretty much pitches this as the entire story, there is thankfully actually more to this fun, frantic air-combat movie as it takes an interesting twist about halfway through, shifting up a gear and giving you even more to get your teeth into. I don't really want to give away any more because it comes as quite a nice surprise for those who think they can already guess everything that is going to happen (although that is not to say that it does not become predictable when you're actually watching it), suffice to say that fans of this kind of movie will not be disappointed with the full two hours of almost non-stop action and will struggle to find a dull moment. (You should also stick around after the end credits for another Cohen-style moment to round off the narrative, as he did with Fast and the Furious). Personally, I cannot see why Stealth has received so much bad press. Is there something I am missing about the advertising? Did it pitch a witty, razor-sharp script or a story penned by James Ellroy? Is it up for an Oscar this year? Or is it just supposed to be a fun, wild action-movie with high-speed aerial combat and big explosions? Schindler's List it may not be but I know which one of the two I am more likely to watch repeatedly in my lifetime.
Aside from the aerial manoeuvres and effects, which admittedly are unsurpassed and completely blow predecessors like Top Gun out of the water, the three leads are the ones who hold it all together (as the likes of Cruise and Kilmer did previously). Josh Lucas is a strange choice for the hero of the piece, especially since the only thing I remember seeing him do before this was play a villain in Ang Lee's Hulk interpretation. Strangely though, he is simply superb as the central part of this unit, an arrogant, grinning Cruise-like protégé who also exudes instant charm and charisma. After seeing him in this you'll wonder why he hasn't done any similar action roles before. The absolutely stunning Jessica Biel pouts and simmers her way through this as her female equal, capably holding her own both on the ground and in the air, whilst still exuding a fractional vulnerability (and strong morality) that keeps her desperately alluring (something which she was distinctly lacking in her last foray into action, the marginally disappointing Blade Trinity). The two of them have great chemistry as well, playing out a limited script to its full potential. Jamie Foxx is probably the biggest name at the moment - flavour of the month - but he's been in a few too many things recently for my liking (much like Will Ferrell). Still, he does a good job here, even if he plays a distinct third wheel to the two primary players, backing them up as an almost comedic element.
As I've stated, Stealth isn't going to win any awards. It's unlikely to have people quoting lines from it or go down in anybody's top ten. Still, it is a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn action movie which happily allows you to sit back, switch off your brain and experience the wild ride for a fun two hours of your life. In my opinion it serves its purpose well, does its job well and ought to be acclaimed as such.