Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: About a year ago, we singled out some of our favorite unloved summer blockbusters. With the event-movie season upon us again, it’s time for the sequel.
W.D. Richter is a funny guy. We know this because he wrote the scripts for Philip Kaufman’s brilliant remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (which wittily couched its alien-takeover fantasy in the language of ’70s self-help manuals) and John Carpenter’s beloved neo-B-movie Big Trouble In Little China. Richter also directed The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension—a cult classic whose trash-compactor aesthetics and attitude look positively visionary a few decades (and several Richard Kelly movies) later. So why did the reviewers who carpet-bombed the 2005 action film Stealth—featuring a hyper-intelligent sentient fighter jet that turns on the military scientists that created it and leads a siege on North Korea—assume that the film was anything but a slyly technophobic riff on Top Gun? Why so serious, guys?
To be fair, director Rob Cohen is not exactly a filmmaker vaunted for his sense of humor: Stealth was his follow-up to the Vin-Diesel-powered twofer of The Fast And The Furious and xXx, both of which were exactly as meat-headed as they needed to be. Earlier this year, Cohen gave us The Boy Next Door, with its pantheon-ready sequence in which a character is presented with a “first edition” of The Odyssey purchased at a garage sale. But there’s something to be said for the tension of a movie where the screenplay is cleverer than the person hired to shoot it. Stealth is filled with jokes that register on the Richter scale even as the swooping camera moves and flashy cutting suggest an attempt to sell this stupidity as the coolest shit on Earth.
The casting of Josh Lucas also works in the movie’s favor. He’s the distinctly Maverick-ian pilot who gets pitted against the pitiless “EDI”—an implacable cousin to HAL 9000 whose bells and whistles include the ability to download every song ever recorded. That EDI chooses to play some bombastic nu rock in lieu of Mozart or Kenny Loggins is the surest sign that his AI has been irreparably corrupted. Richter’s wiseacre bona fides emerge from the wreckage unscathed, even if he hasn’t been invited to write a movie since. The guy foresaw drone programs and the impending tetchiness between the U.S. and North Korea—which may yet still end with Jessica Biel being pursued through harsh terrain by dogs. Somebody should get this guy another gig.
Availability: Stealth is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon or possibly from your local video store/library. It can also be rented from the major digital services.