In Stealth, three elite navy pilots discover that their new wingman is an unmanned bomber with an electronic mind. The human trio fear that their finely honed skills will become obsolete and their careers subordinated to the powers of advanced machinery. With good reason, for such a fate has apparently befallen Hollywood screenwriters.
The e-noggin in question is an illuminated, marbleized sphere gewgawed with various metallic
doohickeys, which sits, R2-D2-like, inside the cockpit. When removed for maintenance, it resembles either the world’s most tricked-out bowling ball or something found trapped in the claws of a very large pewter dragon. Its soft male speech patterns (yes . . . it talks) at first recall the passive-aggressive
parley of 2001‘s HAL, but after being struck by lightning and thereby gaining a malevolent sentience, the super-drone becomes a bit bitchier, more in the vein of
Knight Rider‘s KITT. Once the rogue jet starts bombing targets with complete disregard for civilian collateral damage (unlike the humans, who do the moral arithmetic moments before potential strikes), much of the narrative consists of attempts to get this deadly embodiment of taxpayer money back to base unharmed. Because, ultimately, it’s the only brain this picture has.
Probably pitched as Top Gun meets
Terminator, Stealth is more along the slapdash lines of
Iron Eagle II meets
Short Circuit. Its action sequences, more geeky than thrilling, fail to rescue the laughable plot. But like
Top Gun, this gas-guzzling gearhead trip from director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) was made with the support of the real-life U.S. Navy—although only assiduous credit hounds would notice. Along with the other armed forces branches, the navy allows access to bases, equipment, and personnel for select projects after approving scripts to make sure they present an “accurate” depiction of service life; such joint efforts, the thinking goes, can enhance the military’s public image and aid recruitment efforts.
Thus, the navy’s depicted as a cool, high-tech place for ambitious career professionals. The triple protags’ demographics are poster perfect: the cocky white hunk (Josh Lucas), the ultra-honorable—but still hot—female “wingm’n” (Jessica Biel), and the fun-loving black pilot (Jamie Foxx), who calls his career “the flyest job you’ll ever have.” Over cocktails on a lavish R&R junket in Thailand (join the navy, see the world), they debate the merits of their computerized co-fighter with the gravity of an Annapolis ethics seminar. “It’s neutral,” says Biel. “If it’s controlled by moral people, then it will be moral.” Trouble is, once created, those darned weapons systems sometimes get in the hands of immoral people, as evidenced by a Tajik warlord who schleps a few pilfered nukes via oxen team into his medieval castle. Important lessons, perhaps, but is the navy’s image boosted if audiences guffaw at an unintentionally hilarious scene of Biel emergency parachuting over North Korea, verbally reporting every piece of fiery shrapnel that smacks her en route? If we’re going to be fighting the war on terror in perpetuity, could we at least get better movies out of it?