Behind Enemy Lines

If not the worst film of the year, then surely the most politically, thematically, and morally dubious one, Behind Enemy Lines plops Owen Wilson into a version of the Bosnian conflict so removed from historical reality that it would give alternate-history science-fiction writer Harry Turtledove pause. A Navy air navigator frustrated with the dullness of his day-to-day routine, Wilson begins the film on the verge of handing in his wings for a job in the private sector, a decision that does little to please hard-bitten commanding officer Gene Hackman. As punishment, Hackman assigns Wilson a Christmas patrol over the former Yugoslavia, never expecting his plane to veer off course and get shot down behind (as the title suggests) enemy lines. Pursued by Serbs—including a relentless killer made no more frightening by his decision to wear an ill-fitting jogging suit—Wilson travels through the fallout of the war, while Hackman, his hands tied by ineffectual NATO restrictions, attempts to mount a rescue mission. It's bad enough to rewrite recent history by implying that righteous American might is kept in check by thumb-twiddling conciliatory diplomacy. Worse, Behind Enemy Lines also reworks its Bosnian hellscape as a series of sites custom-made for an overblown action film, with mass graves, minefields, and wrecked cities all serving as locations for an explosion-filled chase cued to Don Davis' thrift-shop Wagner score. Seldom has tragedy found itself recycled as farce so quickly, and the process is only abetted by the stylistic overkill of first-time director John Moore. Apparently unable to pass up a single trick shot, gimmicky edit, or chintzy digital effect, Moore might have shaved off a significant portion of Behind's running time had he simply excised all the gratuitous freeze-frames and slow motion. He even finds a way to negate Wilson's talent for improving even the weakest material, keeping his star grim and silent for most of the film. Shot before the current hostilities began but then rushed into release, Behind may provide a taste of contemporary wartime entertainment. If so, it's yet another reason why peace can't come soon enough.

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