The September 11 attacks scared the people in charge of Windtalkers enough for them to push the release of that Nicolas Cage movie back six months, but many other movies wisely advanced their releases, anticipating a new popularity in patriotism and the military. They were right, but even that can't help Behind Enemy Lines be a good movie.
Owen Wilson finds himself in the unlikely spot of an action hero, as a Navy pilot who is shot down in Bosnia after he witnesses evidence of genocide. From then on, he is on the run from "evil" Serbs, and the U.S. government is hesitant to save them, in fears of destroying the awkward peace processes that are going on.
Behind Enemy Lines has many action scenes, but action scenes don't do a damn thing when the rest of the movie is crap. The script is horrible, the plot makes no sense, and there is barely any realism in the whole film. An exciting and well done dogfight between two missiles and the fighter jet lead way to a horrible film. The small $40 million budget really does not show too much, except in the screenplay, which is at about the level of what I wrote in seventh grade. Obviously the screenwriter didn't do much research, except for ripping off lines from other, better military movies. More than once Wilson defies his superior, played by Gene Hackman, which is just unreasonable. No soldier would talk to their Admiral that way. The dialogue is bad throughout the whole film, and the characters are even worse.
Wilson, just as expected, looks way out of his league, and does not fit as an action hero in any way. He is small, goofy, and not very convincing in any of the action sequences, even though all he does is run from a hundred men with guns who couldn't hit an elephant if it were standing ten feet in front of them. The screenplay tries to play on Wilson's usual wit (as seen in Shanghai Noon, for example) but it just doesn't work here. He isn't funny. His character is also really stupid; whenever he decides to take a break, he sits down in the wide open, like next to a road.
As for Hackman, I do not know how he wound up in this film. Hackman doesn't even try, and it really doesn't matter; he obviously knew Behind Enemy Lines was going to suck, so he didn't bother. His character is clichéd and actually quite stupid. In one scene he is watching satellite footage as Wilson plays dead, and repeatedly he asks, "What is happening?" In other scenes, his lower-downs give him advice as to what to do. And in the end, it is he who personally takes a crew of Marines out to save his soldier.
The characters make so many mistakes and the plot points are so stupid, that it really doesn't matter how good the action is, but honestly, the action isn't that great, either. There are some decent scenes, but there are a lot of crappy scenes as well, for two big reasons. First, the direction is just awful. The movie is trying to look technically advanced, so every once in a while, the director chose to use freeze-frames. He also tries to blend this MTV look with Saving Private Ryan-esque shaking, which does not do the trick here. There isn't one clearly visible action scene, as the camera is bouncing around so much that you can barely see what is going on. Also, every action sequence is about as basic as they come. Wilson gets thrown into an action sequence, escapes, goes on the run for ten minutes, and then hits another explosive scene. The movie doesn't sit down and make a very tense and intricate battle, which would have been much more enjoyable (in one scene, a sniper - the main bad guy in the film - is trying to kill Wilson, and Wilson starts sliding down this slanted concrete wall. About halfway down, he manages to catch a pipe protruding from the side. Automatically, that makes him safe, and the movie moves onto the next scene, where Wilson is in the clear.
If Behind Enemy Lines had decided to focus on a few large and intense action sequences, and on Wilson's survival not only related to guys with guns (water, food, etc.), it would have been a lot better. If it had a different director and a different screenwriter, it might have even been a good movie.
Behind Enemy Lines starts of mediocre and just gets worse from there. It is the script and storyline that really add salt to the wound, but sub par action sequences are not much of a remedy.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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