There's an opening scene in Behind Enemy Lines that involves a couple of naval pilots and this neat trick with a football on an aircraft carrier. The trick doesn't really work, but in that scene alone I knew the film's creators had chosen to throw all plausibility out the window.
Fine by me.
Some films aren't supposed to be believable. They are ones meant solely to entertain. They are the James Bond movies and the Die Hards.
Behind Enemy Lines is that type of film -- lots of action, lots of suspense and a lot of impossible stunts that provide one heck of a good ride.
The plot revolves around two people.
It's about a pilot fighting for his life in foreign territory and the officer who is fighting to bring him home.
Early on, we learn that Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) is ready for a change. He has served his time and wants to leave his post because he finds what he's doing to be boring.
Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), on the other hand, doesn't think Burnett has learned enough and quickly shows his disapproval.
There's definitely a sense of tension between these two Navy men right off the bat. The Hackman character seems to respect Wilson for what he's done in his short time as a pilot, but there is also a strong disappointment there that he wants to leave. These early scenes provide a foreshadowing of what's in store the rest of the way.
While nearly the entire crew aboard the aircraft carrier indulges in a holiday feast, Wilson and his co-pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are assigned to a Christmas reconnaissance mission. Wilson, being the adventurer he is, ventures off course to take a little closer look of an unidentified object on his radar screen. That little decision gets the two pilots shot down, leaving them scrambling to get help and to get out.
Almost immediately, Stackhouse is killed at close range and Wilson is left on the run. He gets radio contact with Hackman, who tells him he'll come and get him, but then retracts after a top NATO official said that doing so will only hurt the peace process.
There's a dilemma here. Hackman wants his pilot back, but in going against the rules and regulations, he is sure to jeopardize his career in the process.
Behind Enemy Lines is really about the final decision he makes and whether or not Wilson is able to stay alive long enough to find out that decision.
There's really not a dull bone in this movie's body.
The speed of the picture is increased and decreased at different times, emphasizing certain suspenseful moments. I was especially enthralled by an early scene where Wilson was forced to dodge incoming missiles with his F/A-18 Superhornet jet. I couldn't sit still in my seat, it was that good.
Hackman is decent, although Wilson (Meet the Parents) takes this film right out from under him. This actor is on his way up and it shows. He portrays a smart pilot, but not an invincible one, and the way he handles all of his emotions in all of his scenes is a great accomplishment for him.
For all of its positives, Behind Enemy Lines has one undeniable negative.
The ending is hokey, hokey, hokey -- even for a film this implausible.
It involves Wilson and one last attempt at the retrieval of a classified object.
It's a nice idea, but it doesn't work and it isn't necessary.
A closing conversation by Hackman and Wilson occurs right before the credits roll.
That's the real ending.
**** Behind Enemy Lines is rated PG-13 for war violence and some language