Behind Enemy Lines is one of those quintessential guy movies: big, dumb, filled with explosions, and no token romance in sight. And for these qualities, I give the filmmakers of this action adventure a hearty, "Thank you!" A simplistic, cookie-cutter story packed with one-dimensional characters is presented so unapologetically that fans of the Hollywood blockbuster can't help but leave all expectations at the door and just have fun.
Owen Wilson is a Navy lieutenant flying routine reconnaissance over Bosnia. Disgruntled by the lack of action during his seven years of military service, he recklessly strays off the course of his mission, and he and his buddy are shot down by hostile forces. Gene Hackman, his commanding officer, wants to send a team of Marines to rescue him, but NATO is demanding that Wilson be abandoned in the interest of international politics. So Wilson must evade the enemy and stay alive long enough for Hackman to defy the chain of command and rescue him.
This leads to all the military melodrama you would expect: Hackman valiantly risks his career by disobeying orders so that he can do the right thing, while his superiors are heartless bastards corrupted by politics. Though it's hardly original, the movie has a certain charm in its bold-faced presentation, and is highly patriotic in a "kill all foreigners" sort of way. All the evil people have accents, and the climax of the film is a platoon of Marines laying absolute waste to a slew of bad guys. The sheer carnage is over-the-top enough to elicit laughs, while a single, applause-inducing point is driven home with Hollywood glamour: America severely kicks ass on its enemies.
This feel-good message and the fast paced action are enough to offset a cast of uninteresting characters. Gene Hackman stands out as good, but can only go so far with such a limited role. Meanwhile, Owen Wilson's character can't seem to completely bond with the audience without the benefit of his dire situation--it's hard to feel for a guy who gets into trouble by disobeying orders just for the hell of it. Everyone else is running around playing stereotypes that are so basic that they can be fully described in five words or less. The villains are uncomplicated, but serve their purpose as cannon fodder. My only complaint about them is that the central evil doer wears a jogging suit throughout the movie. While there's a reason for him to be so casual, it's hard to exude evil when you're dressed like the bass player from No Doubt.
The action isn't always realistic (enemy soldiers unload stockpiles of ammunition at Owen Wilson twice without so much as clipping him), but it can never be accused of being slow and boring. Scenes like the aerial dogfight with a pair of heat-seeking missiles and Wilson running through a minefield offer loads of wonderful, gratuitous violence.
But even a brainless blow-'em-up flick can have elements below the "quality standards" it sets for itself, and in Behind Enemy Lines, they're the hokey camera gimmicks. The shaking perspectives, bad close-ups, slow motion shots, and horrendously cheesy freeze-frames make John Woo's overdone trademarks look conservative by comparison. Put such bad ideas aside, though, and you're left with an enjoyable movie that fills a very specific niche. With a thin story and barely a female in sight, this is testosterone driven Hollywood action. And every now and then, such simple escapism is exactly what you need.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)