On a naval base in the Adriatic, jaunty blond flyboys glide down the tarmac in magisterial slo-mo, the air rippling with torrid national pride. But man cannot live by anticipation of combat alone: Maverick navigator Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) is a fighter, not a cop—and as he explains to his superior officer, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), “I certainly didn’t want to be a cop in a neighborhood nobody cares about.” That ‘hood would be the Balkans, where Burnett can’t even pronounce the names of the countries whose soldiers he’s not allowed to shoot at. “Everyone thinks they’re gonna get to punch a Nazi in the face at Normandy. Those days are over.” Hold fast, young turk—Behind Enemy Lines soon hands its hero-in-waiting an ennobling albeit accidental mission, when Burnett is shot down over Serbian territory. While Reigart attempts to assemble a rescue mission, our boy must hump it in the frozen forest and elude a phalanx of dead-eyed assassins, the most energetic of whom has already gunned down Burnett’s pilot. The fortunate son even gets to punch a Serbian in the face. It’s morning in America.
Burnett’s initial frustration notwithstanding, Behind Enemy Lines begins in Top Gun 2 recruitment-video mode; once the kid is off and running, the film forks into a two-pronged Saving Private Wilson narrative, with panicked Burnett on the ground and stalwart Reigart at the boards. First-time feature director John Moore, best known for Sega promos, fires off every weapon in the video-game arsenal: zooms, zigzags, freeze-frames, surreal exposures, and shutter-speed jitters. The exhausting obsession with gizmos and gotchas only accentuates a baffling disinterest in the story’s emotional crux: the lone Burnett’s terrified efforts to escape. Though Wilson gives a customarily sympathetic, engaged, and unpredictable performance, his work is drowned out by pyrotechnics and orchestral paroxysms of patriotism.
Despite its Reaganite strut and greatest-generation longings, the film supposedly takes place “the day after tomorrow,” though its understanding of the Balkan conflicts stops at the Dayton accords and its template clearly originates in the ordeal of Scott O’Grady, an Air Force captain shot down by a Bosnian-Serb missile in June 1995; he survived for six days in the woods south of Bilac before his comrades retrieved him. Yet neither the film nor its press notes mention the connection. While O’Grady spent most of his daytime hours lying still, eating grass and ants and moving only after nightfall, Burnett sprints ceaselessly through sniper fire, trip-wire explosions, mass graves, and downtown shoot-outs, and suffers nary a scratch—a Teflon soldier for the new Teflon presidency.
Also loosely based on real events, Charles Shyer’s The Affair of the Necklace is the latest in Louis XVI costume porn, centering on orphaned Jeanne de la Motte-Valois (Hilary Swank), whose vengeful efforts to restore nobility to her family name entangled the cardinal of France (Jonathan Pryce) and Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson) in a decadent scandal that helped weaken the floodgates prior to the French Revolution. L’affaire du collier was a convoluted palace intrigue that Shyer and screenwriter John Sweet don’t bother to unpack, crafting instead an endless illustrated Harlequin paperback of mawkish backstory and corset-popping purple prose. Two mitigating factors: mesmerist Christopher Walken in Gary Oldman’s hairdo from Dracula, and nobleman Adrien Brody in a towel.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 27, 2001