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Behind Enemy Lines

In a period of heightened patriotism, an action film sounds like a great idea, especially when it's about a smart-mouthed naval aviator who gets shot down over Bosnia and must be rescued by a superior who breaks all the rules. Unfortunately, the hero isn't the only element in this film that needs rescuing.


Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) is a naval pilot stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Vinson. Eager to fly his F/A-18 Superhornet jets (with a name like ''Superhornet'', who wouldn't?), Burnett is unfortunately regulated to observing rather than fighting--and it nearly drives him right out of the U.S. Navy. His commanding officer, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), dresses him down for his bad attitude, stating the fact that things could certainly change in these volatile times--and change they do. On a routine reconnaissance flight, Burnett photographs something no one is suppose to see and is shot down over a hostile area of Bosnia. Trapped, he manages to play a cat and mouse game with what seems like thousands of enemy troops hot on his trail. Meanwhile, Reigart is told that Burnett is expendable and that he isn't allowed to launch a rescue. With true American spirit, he disregards the orders and sends the Marines on a daring rescue to bring back the downed aviator.


In this two-man operation, Wilson and Hackman do the best they can with the material, but it must be difficult as an actor to realize the planes and guns are more important than you are. Wilson has been best known for his comic talents since his first movie, the quirky indie film Bottle Rocket, and has built a nice career for himself playing the wise-crack, appearing in both Shanghai Noon and Rushmore. Unfortunately, this role didn't allow him to flex those well-toned muscles, which is a shame, since it may have lightened the mood considerably. Hackman once again plays the tough career military officer--a cake walk for the veteran actor--and he makes it look as good as he can. What's great about Hackman is he could read the phone book and make it believable. He is an actor who, despite the film being a dud (and he has been in his fair share of duds), is usually the best part about the movie.


Loosely based on the real-life story of American pilot Scott O'Grady, who was shot down in Bosnia in 1995, first-time helmer John Moore decided to cash in on the consciousness of the American people by kicking butt in Bosnia. Obviously, the movie is being released at an opportune time; it's just too bad it relies more on adrenaline than on a compelling story. The action is at times very tense, particularly when Burnett is buried underneath a pit of dead bodies (evidence of the Bosnia atrocities) while the enemy is searching for him, but believability is sacrificed at almost every turn. Is it too much to ask of filmmakers to create a plausible final sequence for an action movie? If a character has fifty automatic weapons pointed at him by professional soldiers, and he's in an open field, the odds of him getting hit by at least one bullet are roughly 100 percent, unless the character is lucky enough to be in Behind Enemy Lines.

Bottom Line

Aside from some exciting action sequences, Behind Enemy Lines is just another tired look at men playing war. Still, the film's pro-American attitude should help it gather some momentum in these troubled times.