The middle of the summer is always the time for a big, dumb, loud explosion movie, with a lot of thumping bass to show how manly it all is, and “Stealth” has arrived right on schedule. Its name is a likely indicator of its performance at the box office.
Three hotshot “Mod Squad”-style fighter pilots (one black guy, one white guy, one white woman) are assigned to work with a new partner — a robot-controlled plane called EDI that has been programmed with every possible kind of data, strategic option, and gizmo. Of course it has very fancy artifical intelligence and the “capacity to learn.” On its first mission, it observes Ben (Josh Lucas) defy orders to destroy a target, and it adopts this strategy and begins to break the rules, starting with some real bad-boy behavior: downloading music from the internet (“How many songs?” “All of them.”) Either they’re right about what loud music does to your brain or it was that lightning strike the plane took, but its neural pathways get scrambled and reconnected and during the next mission it decides to think for itself, with its own survival as top priority.
Have we seen this before? Well, start with “The Sorceror’s Apprentice,” and Frankenstein and Icarus and every other hubris story ever written, and then think about Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Failsafe. And Short Circuit. And a little bit of the legend of John Henry, who thought that people could work better than machines.
Somewhere amidst the explosions there are some embarrassed-looking actors who are much more talented than this movie deserves. As the three pilots, Josh Lucas does most of his acting with his dimple, Jamie Foxx has a good moment dancing in his cabin but otherwise looks like he is hoping that Oscar will give him some better opportunities next time, and Jessica Biel looks brave and smart and wears a bikini well. Sam Shepard as their commanding officer looks like he’d rather be writing plays. Joe Morton adds some dignity and class as the Captain of the aircraft carrier.
The dialogue is clunky technobabble and clunkier attempts at attitude. “Records are made to be broken,” says one hotshot. “Rules, too, if I remember your philosophy,” responds a commanding officer. Oh, and “It’s not a clock radio we’re dealing with!”
The story is clunky, too. Isn’t it handy that three of the world’s most dangerous terrorists happen to be all together in an abandoned building so that if we blow it up no one else will get hurt? And isn’t it even handier that somehow all US and international laws have been suspended so that we’re allowed to send in the Navy to kill them even though they have never been tried, aren’t doing anything right now to threaten anyone, haven’t consulted with any other countries, and are far from any place where we’re at war? Who cares, when it’s a chance to blow stuff up?
“I don’t think war should be a video game,” says one character. Well, I don’t think a movie should be, either.
Parents should know that the movie features non-stop action violence, including shooting and dropping bombs. There is some discussion of the moral issues with regard to collateral damage (injury to innocent civilians). Characters are hurt and killed and there is a suicide. Characters use strong and crude language, give the finger, and drink (scene in a bar). There are sexual references including a joke about group sex and references to casual sex. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of srong and capable diverse characters working together with respect and loyalty, though (spoiler alert) the movie perpetuates one cliche about the disposability of the minority character.
Families who see this movie should talk about how we can make the best use of machines and humans. How do we know when to follow the rules?