Behind Enemy Lines
Grade: B-
Year: 2001
Director: John Moore
Writer: Jim & John Thomas
Genre: Action
Rated: PG-13

Where are all the fighter jet movies? I’ve never been able to understand it. You can make an awesome action flick using the stealthy and all powerful jets that travel several times faster than the speed of light. We get scores of race car movies, submarine flicks, and every other plane train and automobile movie, but without the planes. Where are the Top Gun sequels? I can’t believe Iron Eagle was the last of the great F-16 movies.

Well, I finally get Behind Enemy Lines. Frankly, it‘s not a great movie, but despite the many flaws, (which I will go to town regarding) there are some, and one particular scene, that is completely breathtaking and must be seen.

After spending several months at sea, the Navy Carrier USS Vinson is preparing to return home just in time for the new year. Flight navigator Lt. Burnett (Own Wilson) couldn’t be any happier. He is a whinny immature hothead who somehow served in the Navy for seven years. I don’t know how he made it, because he gets bored quickly. He keeps telling his crew mates that they’re missions are pointless, and other obscure comments that nobody wants to hear. “Everybody thinks they’re gonna’ get the chance to punch some nazi in the face,” he said. “Look at me, I’m eating Jell-O and you’re wiping your hands.”

Burnett has sent a letter to Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman) requesting to be released from his duties. Reigart explodes in his face, telling him that the Navy is the best thing for him, but when the tour ends in two weeks, he will be relieved and not expected to return. “What are you going to do?” Reigart asked. “You gonna’ fly a commercial airliner? You gonna’ patrol the friendly blue skies in a bus?” After the barking session, Burnett is dismissed and has to admit to all of his buddies that he is serious about quitting the Navy.

Christmas day, Burnett learns that he and pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) will be on the holiday mission doing reconnaissance over Bosnian soil, taking pictures with “their new digital camera.” Burnett throws a tantrum, but is glad to know that they are on their final mission.

We then get the privilege to see some beautiful shots of the F-A18 Super Hornet fighter jet. We see the plane gliding through the air over the beautiful ranges and lakes. Stackhouse does a few barrel rolls, and they entertain each other by joking at how pointless this mission is.

Surely enough, after commenting on how the American tax dollars could have been better spent, Burnett picks up suspicious activity on the radar, and tells Stackhouse to check it out. No way, says Stackhouse. That area is the demilitarized zone, where no Serb forces are supposed to be, thus the Americans have agreed not to fly over that space.

The main complication of the plot in Behind Enemy Lines, is the recently signed treaty between the US and Serbia. The treaty specifically outlines the restrictions for American flyovers. Thus, deciding to venture away from the flight pattern could compromise the treaty.

After some reluctance, Stackhouse finally concedes to Burnett’s wishes. While flying over the forbidden land, Burnett is taking pictures of Serbian forces on the ground, not exactly sure what they are doing there. The men on the ground spot the plane, and immediately alert higher command. Before you know it, Burnett’s screen lights up, telling them that they locked on by the Serb’s surface-to-air missiles. One is launched, and now we have one of the greatest cat-chase-mouse scenes ever in a movie.

I honestly never get tired of watching Burnett and Stackhouse frantically try to escape a heat seeking missile. No matter how hard they pull away, the missile never leaves their trail. And to make it even more fun to watch, a second missile is launched.

I liked director John Moore’s approach. He used a lot of fast motion pan shots, and always messed around with the frame rate. For example, after command was alerted to the missile locked on the plane, the team onboard scrambled to track the location, but not before you would think that someone had hit the fast forward button on the VCR. And at some points, the frame would come to a complete halt. It worked well, the camera toiling put that scene and many others on steroids, making it that much more exciting.

Eventually, the two pilots are forced to eject, and land in the hostile Serbian territory. While Burnett attempts to get to higher ground in order to make radio contact with his command, Stackhouse gets cornered by Tracker, (Vladimir Mashkov) isolating the two Americans. All by himself, Burnett must find a way to keep the Serbs away from him. So the mouse hunt game continues, this time on the ground.

This is where the treaty bites our two American runaways. Because they violated the law by flying over the forbidden air space, Admiral Reigart simply can’t order up a couple of helicopters to go rescue them. Why exactly? Because Admiral Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida) won’t let him. As the NATO superior, he has the ultimate jurisdiction aboard the carrier. Plus, he’s French. And we all know how stubborn the French are often portrayed in American movies. Now, Reigart has to somehow delay the pickup, forcing Burnett to find another safe zone in order to stall for time.

Now the movie goes downhill. Just imagine an entire Bosnian Army unsuccessfully taking out one man after several attempts, and you’ll know what I mean. It’s so bad, from this point on in the review, Burnett will now be known as Rambo.

Rambo goes through several close, but always no cigar like scenes. He avoids getting pinned by Tracker, even when he is on the bull’s eye in the rifle scope. Rather than cautiously using the thick trees and brush to his advantage, Rambo runs in the open, making an easy target for an entire army with no aim.

One scene I enjoyed, was when Rambo’s pursuers triggered off a field of land mines setting off massive explosions in the streets. Of course, Rambo escapes, but not before nearly getting taken out by shrapnel and concrete. When the scene ends, Rambo is on the ground after a graceful dive, and his purser’s gun, or what’s left of it, hit’s the ground in slow motion. I just loved the camera work.

There are a few more cool scenes like this sprinkled throughout. It’s an entertaining movie, but only if you don’t let it get to you. There comes a point where the Serbians are literally firing all they’ve got at Burnett, while he is running up the mountains. You see bullets fly everywhere hitting everything, but of course, not our hero. That is really the ultimate flaw in this movie, and that will be enough for many to turn it off prematurely.

Ultimately, I can only recommend Behind Enemy Lines to the fans of war, and war-like movies. But if ever you find out that your friend has a DVD copy, make sure you borrow it, and at the very least, watch the scene where Burnett’s plane tries to dodge the missiles. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie couldn’t hold up.

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