Eric D. Snider

Behind Enemy Lines

"Behind Enemy Lines" is typical of war movies in that its action scenes are fantastic, and its talking scenes are embarrassing.

It's almost sitcom-like, in fact, the way things get moving: Fun-loving fighter pilot Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson), bored with drills and maneuvers on an aircraft carrier, yearns for some real action. Two seconds later, he and his partner Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are shot down while doing reconnaissance over Bosnia. Now he's fighting for his life behind enemy lines. Be careful what you wish for, Burnett!

Back on the ship, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman) is dealing with bureaucracy, insofar as some Marines don't want Reigart to expend much energy getting Burnett back, since he was breaking the rules when he got shot down anyway. (Sharp-eyed readers will recognize all plot points so far as being identical to those in "Spy Game" -- a coincidence, surely, since both films were shot around the same time and released within two weeks of each other.)

There is a lot of overwrought, super-intense dialogue, helped a little by Wilson and Hackman. Their acting styles are very different but they have a common thread: honesty. You always believe these guys, no matter how ridiculous they are. Wilson's better at comedy, but he makes a decent, if not spectacular, action hero.

As a war movie, "Behind Enemy Lines" works very well. The sequence in which Burnett and Stackhouse are shot down is thrilling, and there is palpable, eerie tension in a later scene of a bombed-out town full of trip wires.

First-time director John Moore and first-time cinematographer Brendan Galvin have obviously seen "Saving Private Ryan" a time or two (which is just doing your homework if you're shooting a war picture). Some scenes are visceral, powerful and scary, aided by effectively choppy editing and quick cuts. (The editor is Paul Martin Smith, who also edited "The Phantom Menace," where he didn't get to have nearly as much fun.)

There is an attempt to make the whole thing meaningful, with an "oh-the-humanity!" lesson on the horrors of war and genocide and what-not, but that part rings most hollow of all. "Behind Enemy Lines" is a war movie, and a solid one at that. It does best when it sticks to its guns.

Grade: B

Rated PG-13, a lot of mid-level profanity, some strong war-related violence

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