Movies:Movie Reviews:Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines
Photo: ©2001 Twentieth Century Fox

Director(s): John Moore

Writer(s): Zak Penn and David Veloz

Cast: Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Joaquim de Almeida, David Keith, Olek Krupa, Gabriel Macht, Charles Malik Whitfield and Vladimir Mashkov

Reviewed by: Ian Evans on

Release Date(s)

Nov 30, 2001 - Wide

Gene Hackman is one of those actors, like Michael Caine, that you forgive even when they appear in awful movies. Gene, we saw Behind Enemy Lines. You’re forgiven.

Depending on your cynical meter, Fox is either waving the flag or cashing in on the current wave of patriotism in the United States. Behind Enemy Lines follows a US Navy F-18/A Superhornet navigator named Burnett (Owen Wilson). He and his pilot, Stackhouse, complain that their current mission in Bosnia doesn’t allow them to do what they’re trained for and reduces them to flying patrol missions that are strictly controlled by the politicians and their NATO allies. Burnett has even gone so far as to hand in his letter of resignation to his carrier’s battle group commander, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman).

While flying a routine reconnaissance mission, Burnett and Stackhouse notice Serb activity in what is supposed to be a demilitarized zone. They fly over the area, which under the NATO/Serb accord is not supposed to happen. This raises alarms with the Serbs, who are trying to hide both troop movements and a mass grave, and they fire off surface-to-air missiles at the US fighter.

The scene where the Hornet tries to evade the missiles is exciting and has all the intense sound and visuals you’d expect from a director whose previous work includes a high-profile game ad for SEGA.

The plane is shot down, Burnett and Stackhouse eject, and the Serbs start looking for them. Apparently the only things the Serbs are able to hit successfully are the Hornet and the injured Stackhouse. The Serbs fire hundreds of rounds of ammunition at Burnett, but the navigator successfully evades each one. If movies were real life, this would explain why the Balkan conflict has gone on for so long: the soldiers can’t hit anything.

Since his men can’t shoot, the Serb commander sends a secret policeman off to hunt Burnett down. I’m thinking a camouflage outfit may be a necessary tool in this chase, but apparently the Tracker (Vladimir Mashkov) has tickets for a World Cup match after his mission and decides to wear a blue-and-white striped tracksuit instead. His training must have focused on soccer too because, even armed with a long-range sniper’s rifle, he can’t hit Burnett time after time. And it’s not like Burnett doesn’t give him ample opportunity to kill him. When he talks with Reigart by radio, he must have misunderstood the meaning of “evade and survive” to mean “stand on top of ridges, sit against trees and rest in the middle of dams.”

Back on the carrier, Reigart wants to save his man, but his hands are tied by orders from NATO Admiral Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida) who argues the life of one pilot is not worth the thousands that would be killed if the accord collapsed. This of course would not be a mini-Rambo film if Reigart didn’t ignore those orders and risk his career – and life – to save Burnett.

Behind Enemy Lines has some solid actors in it, but their talents are wasted. Director John Moore has never met a visual effect shot he didn’t like and can even turn a sentence from Hackman into a shot from The Matrix. Hackman has great work behind and ahead of him and Owen Wilson is turning into an actor who can hold his own and display that likeable Everyman quality. Behind Enemy Lines leaves the pair unarmed in hostile territory.