Behind Enemy Ass
2 stars

by Stephen Notley

Remember the good ol' days? The simple, innnocent time when a U.S. navy fighter pilot shot down over enemy territory could count on his tough-as-nails commander to hem and haw and question and eventually decide to send in a rescue team, *no matter what those pencil-pushers in Washington said*? I remember those times too. What happened to them? Oh, right -- some freaks flew airplanes into the World Trade Center towers a couple months ago.

Luckily, Behind Enemy Lines is in theatres to remind us that solutions are simple, the American military is well-intentioned but held back (by those *damn pencil-pushers in Washington!*), and rescues always go down with a split-second blowing-away of an evil Serb tank battalion just in time.

Behind Enemy Lines might best be termed "military fantasy", by which I mean it's a totally cheeseball action movie with a thin veil of "reality" draped over it.  It's the sort of film the Navy is happy to provide an aircraft carrier for, a total love letter to the military self-image. After the opening credits, I had a strong sense that I was being invited to join the Air Force, a sense that continued throughout the film. The movie is chock full of earnest young Americans who just want to do their jobs. Hell, it's almost kind of sweet.

To be fair, Behind Enemy Lines is not billing itself as anything other than dumb. The trailers suggest a pile of  fancy combat special effects stitched onto a 1-2-3  plot, and what the trailers suggest, the movie delivers. No tedious soul-searching, no needlessly complex interactions with foreigners, just lotsa explosions and grainy high-speed film shots of Owen Wilson running through color-desaturated forests as Saving Private Ryan-style tracer bullets whip by.

Sure, the bad guys may be real-life bad guy Serbs, and they may dig mass graves like real-life bad guys do, but this is still the action-movie world, no mistake. Witness Owen stumbling into the minefield that only blows up Serbs. Observe as the jerky admiral holds back on the rescue because of some dumb "treaty". Check out the evil snub-faced Serb sniper in a jogging suit chasing after our hero. It's action movie all the way. Since Behind Enemy Lines isn't actually trying to surprise or challenge the audience's opinions about warfare (unlike, say, Three Kings) it all unfolds pretty much as expected; you can see the plot points thud home with metronome screenplay certainty. 

At the same time, though, there's something of a disconnect between BEL's obvious action-movie instincts and its apparent desire to be serious about something. It's unseemly, for instance, to toss a mass grave into the story just for the sake of a minor action-scene beat, but there it is. Meanwhile, the climactic rescue scene (in which the evil Serb bad guys get theirs) would make perfect sense in a movie like Cliffhanger -- but somehow in the quasi-real world of Behind Enemy Lines, it just comes off as retarded. Fun in a dumbass way, but retarded.