Owen Wilson Down
In 1988 Gene Hackman starred in a movie called "Bat 21" it saw him playing a weapons countermeasures expert who during the Vietnam War became stranded in the Vietnam jungle and the story was basically about getting him to safety. Now 13 years later Hackman is in a very similar movie "Behind Enemy Lines", but rather than it being Hackman's character who is stranded in enemy territory we have Owen Wilson as a hot shot Navy fighter pilot who finds himself in the enemy filled wilderness of Bosnia and it is Hackman who has to get him out. Doesn't sound that bad and the back of the DVD says it's a gritty war drama. But "Behind Enemy Lines" is not a gritty war drama because it's full of overly choreographed and jazzed up action scenes which look like they belong in a music video.
Bored off just policing the skies over Bosnia hot shot Navy fighter pilot, Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson - Zoolander) wants out especially when he is sent on a very mundane task to photograph the Bosnian landscape. That is until he spots some wrong and before he knows it he is shot out of the skies and parachuting into enemy territory. All alone when his co-pilot dies he must find a way to not only survive but also get out of danger and his only hope is Admiral Leslie McMahon Reigart (Gene Hackman - Absolute Power) sending in a rescue team. But that is easier said that done with politics preventing him from sending in help.
The actual storyline and idea to "Behind Enemy Lines" is quite good and whilst feeling a bit like an update of "Bat 21" has potential with it being set in Bosnia. It may not be that original and quite often runs to a formula but it has the potential to be decent delivering drama and action. And add to that the issues which Reigart faces to send in a rescue team should just add to the drama.
But "Behind Enemy Lines" is flawed and one of the main problems with the storyline is that it cannot make up its mind as to what it wants to be. It starts off in quite a light, humorous manner and you couldn't be blamed if you thought it was going to be another "Top Gun" style movie. But it soon dispenses with the majority of the lightness and humour but fails to get really gritty; sort of floating in no mans land making it quite dull and not overly engaging.
The other huge problem is that the action is just completely unrealistic. We have the stranded Lieutenant running in wide open spaces being bombarded with gun fire and missiles from close range but never getting hit. Okay, so a little bit of escapism does not hurt anyone, but this borders on the ridiculous. It also does not help when in one scene we watch the Lieutenant jump from underneath a covering of snow to fire at one of the army trackers. Yes it may be dramatic to watch, but it feels more suited to the unbelievability of a "Rambo" movie than one that is trying to be a realistic, gritty drama.
Up until now I have refrained from mentioning any of the stars and that is for a very good reason. In the lead role of this would be realistic, gritty drama we have one of Hollywood's most popular funny men, Owen Wilson as Lieutenant Chris Burnett. Yes that's right, we have a comedy actor taking on a serious role and I have to say it is one of the worst bits of casting I have ever seen. Wilson is just far to nice to effectively carry of the pilot, fighting for his life in a war torn country, he looks to nice, sounds to nice and just does not display any real emotion through the entire movie. To be honest, he spends more time looking like a model in a TV commercial than as a serious actor, which is probably more to do with the direction than his acting ability.
Unfortunately "Behind Enemy Lines" predominantly focuses on Wilson's character as also making an appearance is Gene Hackman as his superior, Admiral Reigart. To be honest, although he does not get any decent screen time or any decent dialogue, Hackman puts in a decent performance which saves "Behind Enemy Lines" from being absolutely terrible. This is by no means Hackman's best performance but he manages to convey real depth to his character as he has to fight bureaucracy before he can even attempt a rescue mission.
Sadly the remaining members of the cast putty in pretty mediocre performances with the worst coming from Joaquim de Amleida as Admiral Reigart's Nato superior. He seems to float in and out of his scenes without any real screen presence and is totally unconvincing as such a powerful man. Also putting in a rather bewildering performance is Vladimir Mashkov as the lead Bosnian tracker searching for Burnett. He is supposed to come across as a ruthless, expert assassin, but he could not hit a barn door at 10 paces, plus he looks more like a weasely drug dealer than an expert killer.
"Behind Enemy Lines" is directed by little known director John Moore, who prior to taking the reins of this $40 million movie had only ever directed TV commercials. This knowledge helps to explain why "Behind Enemy Lines" comes across as just one long TV commercial but does not excuse it. It may be visually impressive with a vast array of camera techniques from slow motion running straight into snappy freeze frame action and some stunning landscape sequences but for the majority of the time, "Behind Enemy Lines" comes across as just an overlong commercial, especially as Moore seems to favour shooing Owen's pouting good looks rather than the roughness of the situation.
What this all boils down to is that "Behind Enemy Lines" was a huge disappointment and definitely wrongly packaged as a gritty war drama where in fact it is more like a bit of action, escapism. It may have a couple of well choreographed action sequences, but for the most it is a miscast, over stylized attempt at a modern war drama which plays more like a commercial.