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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Stealth (*1/2)


July 20, 2005

Last night, I checked out a free screening of Stealth, the new action movie that’s Top Gun meets Top Gun meets a mental patient who stays up all night watching Cinemax but doesn't understand the complicated plots.

Stealth opens up with a long series of place cards which helpfully inform the audience that “to combat terrorism” the U.S. Navy created three super duper advanced stealth fighters. Holy shit, no wonder we haven’t won the war on terror yet! We haven’t done what Stealth suggests is the solution to the complicated matter of international terrorism: send stealth fighters to shoot missiles at terrorists and blow them the fuck up. G.I. Joe had a more realistic approach to fighting terrorists and they had ninjas, pirates and dogs on their payroll. These stealth fighters are not only super fast and stocked with lots of missiles but they come equipped with female computer guidance voices, like the woman’s voice on the Star Trek computers except proficient in phone sex.

The opening crawl goes on to say that over 4,000 pilots were tested to fly the new stealth fighters and only three were chosen. Why only 3? Why didn’t they build 4,000 stealth fighters? Isn’t 4,000 better than 3? Think of how many missiles you can fire at terrorists if you had 4,000 stealth fighters. 

To further illustrate how unimaginative Stealth is, the three chosen pilots are given the following call signs: One, Two, and Three. Jesus, can’t they even try to come up with something more creative? I’ll do it for them them. The pilots chosen to fly the most advanced stealth fighters in the world are Josh Lucas (call sign: Sweet Home Alabama), Jessica Biel (call sign: 7th Heaven), and Jamie Foxx (call sign: Ray Charles.) They live their lives 1,000 miles at a time.

Lucas has the hots for Biel and shows it by banging floozies not half as hot as Biel and telling her about it instead of just asking Biel out. Foxx is in the movie, but not really. In every scene Foxx is in he’s practically rehearsing for Ray and Collateral instead of paying attention to how he’s supposed to act in Stealth. There are moments he’s sitting in his stealth fighter and he’s wondering why his taxi has wings and why Tom Cruise with a blond wig isn’t sitting in the back seat. Then he starts playing piano on the dashboard.

One day, a bomb of a different sort is dropped: The three stealth fighters have a new wingman. 

Jessica Biel: A fourth wingman?

Let’s see, there’s one, two, three of you already – that’s right, Jessie, four comes right after three. The fourth wingman is an artificially intelligent robot stealth fighter called E.D.I. (call sign: Skynet.) It’s a learning computer and the three heroes are supposed to fly with it on missions, at which point it will learn everything they know and then at a later point replace them. Lucas is not keen on the idea.

Josh Lucas: War isn’t supposed to be some kind of video game!

Neither are movies, but shit, look what I’m watching you act in. They do as ordered and take the robot on a mission where terrorists are hanging out in an office building in the middle of Rangoon. How do they have this intel? Because from their stealth fighters in the sky thousands of miles away, they can perform retinal scans and finger print analyses of the terrorists in question and confirm their identities as enemies of the freedom-loving peoples of the West. Now, how the fuck can they confirm the IDs of a bunch of terrorists by finger prints and retinal scans? How did they have their finger prints and retinal data already on file? When did the terrorists submit to having that data filed by American computers? Whatever, idiots.

Their mission is to shoot missiles at the terrorists and blow up the building – but blow it up with a missile without killing any innocent people. It’s an impossible mission, not in terms of the logic but because according to the movie, the only way to shoot the missile properly is to bank the stealth plane at an angle and speed that would cause a human to black out. They are ordered to let the robot handle it - that's what it was built for. Lucas disobeys orders because ain’t no robot gonna blow up a terrorist when he’s on the job. He pulls off the impossible maneuver, doesn’t black out, and fires the missile so that the office building implodes, killing all the terrorists (apparently only terrorists are in the high-rise building – no one else is, no janitors, night watchmen, etc.) but heroically not harming any innocent civilians. Lucas flies home, a job well done. 

Lucas’s commander Sam Shepard is pissed that Lucas disobeyed orders but then again, he killed some terrorists, so the commander gives all three of them a free vacation in Thailand. But not the robot, it has to stay on board the aircraft carrier, so the robot doesn’t get to hang out on the waterfall and watch Jessica Biel prance around in her bikini. 

Okay, stop here because this needs to be addressed clearly and in all honesty: Jessica Biel’s ass deserves its own paycheck for this movie. That ass is absolutely magnificent, a thing of heart stopping beauty. The rest of her is pretty fantastic too. Jesus. Would ya look at her? She’s unbelievable. For my money, Jessica Biel is far and away the hottest woman in movies today. Jessica Alba gets a lot of press and there is no questioning Alba’s hotness, but I’ll take Biel’s taut, athletic body and sweet, girl next door beauty over Alba. Biel is also probably a better actor although you’d never know it from Stealth. What Biel does do well is being physical and making you believe she’s in mortal jeopardy, more on that later.

Turns out the Thailand scenes really had no purpose other than to show off Jessica Biel’s body. There was some goofy comedy involving Foxx sleeping with some Thai woman he picked up at a temple and there was the important character building scene where Foxx reminded Lucas that Biel is the Navy’s supergirl pilot because she went to all the best schools (which ones? The movie don’t know) and if he sleeps with her, he’ll inevitably ruin her career. Wait, aren’t they all going to lose their jobs anyway when the robot planes replace them all? Sleep with her anyway, Lucas. She even blatantly asks him to over dinner and he walks out on her. Some hero.

Meanwhile, there are problems with the robot plane. When attempting to land on the aircraft carrier after the Rangoon mission, the robot is struck by lightning. Its circuits get fried and it starts acting funny. “Destroy all humans” funny. The first thing it does is download songs from the Internet, the joke is it downloaded every song from the Internet. Yet for some reason, it only wants to listen to songs from the Stealth soundtrack, imagine that. It would have been great if it also started downloading movies from the Internet.

Robot Plane: I downloaded this really shitty movie called Stealth. It was almost unwatchable but the robot plane in it was really good. Also, holy shit, Jessica Biel has an incredible ass. Why? Why was I programmed to feel aroused?

Anyway, despite noticeable problems developing with the malfunctioning robot plane, Commander Shepard, who is also growing noticeably more evil by the scene, sends it up with the three pilots on their new mission: a bunch of terrorists are transporting nuclear warheads on the backs of cows to some mountain castle in Pakistan. Their job is to shoot missiles at the warheads and blow them up. Biel accurately points out something her commander would have thought of before greenlighting the mission if he weren’t evil, that shooting missiles at live nuclear warheads would end up killing a lot of innocent people and create a poisonous radiation cloud. They can’t do that, she’d feel bad. Lucas concurs and calls for an abort. The robot plane says fuck that, disobeys orders and blows the terrorists to Kingdom Come, killing all those innocent farmers and creating that poisonous radiation cloud Biel was just talking about. As a result, it started an international incident, but there’ll be more where that came from.

By now, the Stealth fighters have noticed that the robot plane is messed up. The robot plane no longer listens to orders, goes rogue, and decides that its primary function is to destroy all enemy targets. Their evil commander, whose entire career is staked on that robot plane, orders them to bring it back to the aircraft carrier in one piece. How’re they gonna do that? Well, there’s no way to except to reason with it. The robot won’t listen to reason so Jamie Foxx decides he’ll bring him down the way they do everything else in the movie, with missiles. Missiles solve every problem. The robot figures out that Foxx is about to pop a cap in its ass and does the first and only neat and surprising thing in the whole movie. If you’ve read this far, you already know I’m giving everything away so you don’t care I’m dropping this bomb:

The robot plane kills Jamie Foxx, blows him straight to an Academy Award in a more prestigious movie. 

That was a pretty nice swerve and earned Stealth the one star rating I was contemplating giving it. (Ultimately, I’m awarding Stealth one and a half stars, one for the movie and another half a star for Jessica Biel’s ass. But I'm thinking it should be the other way around.) In the explosion caused by Foxx’s plane going boom, shrapnel fragged Biel’s plane, causing it self-destruct. Biel has to eject, and the movie does a second interesting thing: it forces the hot girl from 7th Heaven to parachute into North Korea. The evil commander points out “we have no diplomatic relations with that country!” and hangs Biel out to dry.

Stealth then eases off stealing from Top Gun and starts riffing on Behind Enemy Lines. Biel is shot at by the North Korean Army as she desperately tries to cross the forests and mountains into the DMZ and friendly South Korea. Unfortunately, opportunities were missed left and right here as Biel manages to evade her pursuers. What should have happened is Biel gets captured, locked in a gulag, stripped down, tortured, gets her head shoved in a bucket of water, and gets poisoned by scorpions, all while shitty Madonna music plays. 

James Bond: Been there, done that, not pleasant.

And then Biel should have been brought before Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Il: I’m so ronery…

Unfortunately, except for her getting clipped in the arm with a sniper bullet, Stealth pussies out when it could have gone for the gusto, mostly keeping Biel out of harm’s way. Biel is good in these scenes, though. As in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the athletic Biel can convincingly be chased by people out to kill her and make you care for her peril. Neither a damsel in distress nor a tiny waif, Biel can run, evade and fight more believably than most other actresses her age.

Meanwhile, in the skies above the world, Lucas is still chasing the crazy robot plane. They dog fight each other, take time out to refuel in mid-air, dog fight some more, end up in Russian air space, team up against Russian planes, and then start fighting each other again. By this point, I’m pretty bored. This movie just keeps going and going. I think it’s about two hours but it feels like seven. Instead of destroying the robot, Lucas comes up with an idea so brilliant it can’t possibly work and makes no sense. He launches his last missile into the sea as the robot chases him and creates a giant water explosion. The robot plane, which had holes shot into its hull by the Russians, flies through the water and miraculously, its fried circuits are rewired or whatever and it turns babyface. Holy shit, all the evil robot needed was a bath and it turns good again. 

Mr. Burns: I’ve had one of my unpredictable changes of heart.

Lucas and the robot plane are pals once more, but the movie keeps going on and on as the evil commander Shepard, realizing he’s gonna be court marshaled for all the shit he’s done, such as sending three pilots on a hot, sexy Thailand vacation with taxpayer money – and also that nuclear cloud over Pakistan the evil robot plane he built caused – arranges to have Lucas killed and the robot’s memory wiped in a super secret base in Alaska only the evil commander knows about, stocked with a bunch of bumbling idiots.

Lucas finally figures out that he’s been sold out. He steals the robot plane and uses all the songs from the Stealth soundtrack the robot plane illegally downloaded to distract the enemy soldiers while he launches missiles and blows up the secret base, killing them all. Wait, the robot plane has exterior speakers? Why the fuck would exterior speakers be built in a robot stealth fighter

Lucas steals the robot plane to go on one last mission: fly into North Korea and save Jessica Biel. Meanwhile, Biel does the only stealthy thing in the entire movie by making it undetected to the North Korean border but she is located before she can hop the fence into the DMZ. Just when she’s about to go on a one-way trip to (7th) Heaven, Lucas and the robot show up, kill every North Korean in sight and blow a lot of shit up with missiles. Lucas leaves the plane and runs with Biel to the DMZ and to safety. Just then, a helicopter gunship with more North Koreans arrive to kill Lucas and Biel. The robot plane takes off and makes a curious decision not to fire missiles. Instead, it inexplicably makes the ultimate sacrifice to save its human friends; colliding with the gunship, killing itself along with the North Koreans so that Biel and Lucas can make it to the warm, glowing, warming glow of the Demilitarized Zone. 

Captain Kirk: Of all the robot planes I’ve ever known, he was the most …human!

Finally the fucking movie is over. I didn’t even get to mention what happens to the evil commander (it’s sort of implied he commits suicide but the movie completely forgets about him). There was all this other crap going on with the billionaire software developer in Seattle who built the robot plane, the senator who for no reason whatsoever is only shot with cameras that are outside his office window, and Joe Morton (call sign: Miles Bennett Dyson) as the captain of the aircraft carrier who went to arrest the evil commander.

And for a movie called Stealth, they didn't do anything stealthy. What's so fucking stealthy about flying into a country at supersonic speeds and then shooting missiles at everything?

Despite the fact that they killed a lot of innocent people in Pakistan and Lucas illegally flew into North Korea, killed a lot of soldiers and basically started a war, no mention is made of the consequences of any of it. Instead, Biel and Lucas are instantly back on the aircraft carrier, all cleaned up for Jamie Foxx’s funeral at sea. No mention is made of what happens to them because of all the shit they did and all the people they killed. And even after flying to North Korea to rescue Biel, Lucas still doesn’t even kiss her. Biel ends the movie by calling him a pussy. Quite right.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Fantastic Four (*1/2)

Fantastic Four is like a bunch of six year olds trying to cook themselves breakfast. They have the basic idea of what they want to do, their hearts are in the right place, but they don’t have the skills to do it right, they make a big fucking mess, and the breakfast ends up looking and tasting like shit. Fortunately they manage not to start a fire and burn the whole house down.

Sometime during the interminable middle act of Fantastic Four, Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl/Woman/Jessica Alba scolds her hotheaded younger brother Johnny Storm/The Human Torch/Chris Evans.

Sue Storm: What's wrong with you? Why don’t you think?!

Great take. Cut and print that. Now, Jessica, do me a favor: why don’t you turn around and with the same tone of disappointment, say that exact line to your director Tim Story, your writers, your producers and whoever else makes the decisions around here.

Scene after scene until the movie grinds to a halt there is constant, illogical bone headedness. Take the first major action set piece in the movie… Wait, before I can get to that, I have to mention this: All right, so Ben Grimm/Michael Chiklis is transformed into The Thing and escapes the quarantine the Fantastic Four and Victor Von Doom/(Dr.) Doom/Julian McMahon were placed in after their whatever-they-were-doing in space went wrong ---

Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic/Ioan Gruffudd: We were trying to help mankind’s DNA by studying a magnetic cloud in space that accelerated, bombarded us with cosmic rays and fundamentally altered our DNA.

I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about and neither do you. And I’m not the one who claims to be a genetic scientist so what’s Reed’s excuse? Jesus, where was I? Right, the Thing.

The Thing escaped the quarantine lab in the middle of the night and ran through the woods of wherever the lab is. He’s heading home to Yancy Street in New York City to see his wife. Whereever the lab surrounded by forest is, it’s easy enough distance for the Thing to make it into Manhattan without anyone noticing him; he makes it home before his wife has gone to bed. The Thing calls her from a payphone after some goofy comedy about how his orange rock fingers are too big to press the buttons on the payphone. He tells her to come outside.

Despite the fact that her husband was in outer space, was in an accident, has been quarantined for days and this is the first she’s heard from him, the fact that he happens to suddenly be outside, his voice is gravely, and he wants her to mysteriously go outside in the middle of the night when he could just come through the door of his own apartment doesn’t concern her in the least. Instead, she says she has “a surprise” for him and then runs out the door of their apartment in the middle of the night, onto a New York City street, in her negligee. What kind of idiot does that? Then she sees that her husband has turned into an orange rock man, screams and runs off.

The next day, the Thing is sitting on the Brooklyn Bridge feeling sorry for himself. At that exact spot, in that exact moment, someone shows up next to him planning on committing suicide. He freaks out when he sees the Thing, falls into traffic and the Thing heroically rams a semi-truck to stop it from colliding into the man. A neat little comic book moment.

Okay, but then, coincidentally, at that exact moment, the rest of the Fantastic Four happen to be on the Brooklyn Bridge looking for the Thing. By the time they get out of their car (not the Fantasticar), a traffic jam has piled up on the Bridge and there are dozens of gawkers separating the FF from the Thing. Reed Richards, who is supposed to be a genius, tells Susan Storm that she’s the only one who can get them to the Thing. Huh? Howzat? Reed can stretch and the Human Torch can fly so they could reach the Thing a lot easier than the Invisible Girl/Woman can. But okay, at this point the FF don’t want to attract attention (even though that’s exactly what they’ll get anyway once they reach the Thing. If we’re thinking.)

Reed, the genius’s plan: “Sue get naked and turn invisible, then get us past all these people.” Okay, naked Jessica Alba jostling past people, invisible or not, is a pretty hot idea. Despite the fact that there are people all around the FF, behind and beside them as well as in front, Sue Storm complies, turns invisible and strips off all her clothes right there in front of everyone. So much for not attracting attention.. But she can’t control her powers yet, turns visible again and then yells at Reed. Then she tries it again and somehow gets past some of the people blocking the way, but by the time she reaches the Thing, the cops have agitated him and the Thing goes berserk, knocking a fire truck halfway over the bridge. The Fantastic Four make their move and get in the middle of the action, so all that stuff about Sue needing to get naked and invisible didn’t need to happen since the crowd parted for the FF anyway. The only reason to even do any of that is to tease Jessica Alba getting naked, which they can’t deliver and have no intention of delivering.

The Thing pulls the fire truck back onto the bridge, Mr. Fantastic stretches and saves a falling fireman. More nice comic book moments. The crowd applauds them and hails them as heroes for saving the fire fighters. Apparently no one stopped to think that none of this would have happened if the Thing didn’t ram a semi-truck, then go berserk and almost send a fire truck flying off the bridge.

The clincher is the Thing’s wife suddenly appears through the same crowd the Fantastic Four couldn’t get through five minutes ago. She sees the Thing in broad daylight, takes off her wedding ring, leaves it on the ground and runs off. The Thing’s enormous fingers can’t pick the ring up (a runner they beat to death – he can’t pick up tiny objects or hold a glass without smashing it) and it’s supposed to be sad. The wife is never seen or mentioned again. That’s it? The wife leaves the ring on the ground and then it’s over? No divorce papers to sign, no lawyers. Who keeps the apartment? The money in the joint back account? And happened to the guy who tried to commit suicide, the catalyst for the entire sequence to even happen? Is he grateful? Frightened? Angry? Under arrest? I dunno. He just disappeared.

The entire movie is like this, ideas set up and not followed through, half-assed characters, no logic, no story. That last thing didn’t really hit me until about half way through the movie – there is nothing going on. This movie has no spine. Ostensibly, Reed is building a machine in his lab atop the Baxter Building to recreate the accident in space so he can return everyone to normal out of guilt for what happened to Ben. For this, cue the music from South Park – we need a montage! A genetic research montage!

Meanwhile Victor Von Doom is discovering he’s slowly turning metallic and can absorb and conduct electricity. He is completely oblivious to the fact that for a billionaire who runs a multi-national conglomerate, he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t go to meetings, make telephone calls, host a reality show or anything famous high-powered billionaire businessmen do. He just sits around frowning and gets more metallic.

Unfortunately for Von Doom, his board of directors noticed he doesn’t do anything and they take his company away from him. They apparently never watched Spider-Man, but Von Doom has so he does what Green Goblin did and kills his board members, only Doom does it in a parking lot and not in the middle of Times Square while Macy Gray is performing. After that, Doom decides he wants to kill the Fantastic Four. How does killing them help him? It doesn’t really, but it couldn’t hurt.

Doom decides the best way to go about this is to somehow off screen plant cameras all around the FF’s headquarters so he can watch them on TV. (He doesn’t seem to put a camera in the only place I would: Sue Storm’s bedroom and shower. Who gives a shit what the Thing is doing?) Doom then sits around his headquarters and watches his hated arch-enemies on his TV screens, which takes on the same basic tone as when The Simpsons had satellite TV installed and Homer could watch Bart and Lisa at Springfield Elementary.

Homer: (gasps) Bart and Lisa in the same grade?! (changes channel – gasps) An old army buddy is visiting Mannix?!

It’s just non-stop, how retarded this stuff is. Early in the movie, Johnny Storm breaks quarantine and gets his hot nurse Maria Menounos to go skiing with him. (This quarantine lab is located next to mountains and forests and is within running distance from Manhattan.) While skiing, Johnny bursts into flame, flies for a moment and crashes into the snow, his heat burning off his clothes and melting the ice around him so that he’s sitting naked in a wading pool, bewildered at what just happened. Maria Menounos shows up. He’s horny and invites her into the pool.

It’s suggested she consented and had sex with him because he shows up at the lab later completely naked with only her ski jacket wrapped around his crotch. What kind of a woman, a medical nurse no less, watches her patient suddenly burst into flame and then immediately consents to have sex with him? She’s not at all alarmed or frightened that he might burst into flame again, God forbid while they’re fucking, and he’ll burn her to death? Apparently not. And maybe the Human Torch did kill her and buried her body in the snow – he has her jacket and she’s never, ever seen or mentioned again. Fucking stupid.

Now, it’s not all bad. I liked the swaggering Johnny Storm character and his desire to use his powers to impress women and make money. The Thing came off effectively on screen and they competently touched on his pathos at being turned into a monster. The display of the Fantastic Four’s powers were done pretty well, especially Mr. Fantastic’s fighting style when he stretches, fully utilizing the variables of his powers. I liked when the Thing went berserk (for the 14th time) and Mr. Fantastic stretched around him to subdue him, placing the Thing in the Masterlock. (The Thing failed the Masterlock Challenge.) There were fleeting moments that worked, mostly involving the practical jokes the Human Torch played on the Thing, the physical confrontations between the two, and Sue mediating them.

There is a point in the third act when the Fantastic Four come together to face off against Dr. Doom and my pulse quickened somewhat in anticipation of the big showdown we sat through this entire movie to see. But instead of a knockdown, drag-out fight with the fate of the world at stake, it’s over in a couple of minutes with not a scratch on any of the heroes, and the fight wasn't really about anything.

Those are the good parts, the stuff I liked. Then there’s all the other the bad stuff:

The lack of chemistry between Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd. They’re not believable together as lovers, or even as acquaintances who chat when they run into each other at the bus stop.

The lack of genuine tension in the rivalry turned hatred between Reed Richards and Dr. Doom.

The blind black girl who sometimes forgets to act blind that gets crammed into the story as the Thing’s love interest, which begs all sorts of explanations that are never given.

The fact that three out of the five characters (Reed, Sue, and Doom) are introduced in the first scene as brilliant genetic scientists and not one of them acts like it, speaks like it, or is convincing in any way shape or form. What is it about Marvel when they make their movies that they refuse to hire technical consultants? The Fantastic Four writers know as much about genetic science (even fake comic book genetic science) as Daredevil writer-director Mark Steven Johnson knows about how a trial works.

All of the terrible sitcom dialogue and situations slapped together instead of real character moments that could deepen who these people are and what they feel about what’s happened to them beyond what’s superficial.

The wildly inconsistent tone of the movie, which is also reflected by the wildly inconsistent soundtrack, veering from lousy pop rock to a lousy score to soul music(!) with no rhyme or reason. 

Stan Lee, who makes his most obnoxious cameo in a Marvel movie yet.

This material has potential and Fantastic Four should have been a lot better than it turned out. The movie isn’t as terrible as the worst of its critics are suggesting. Fantastic Four is not worthless, but it’s not good, either. At its best, it’s pleasant. Every now and then it hits a funny or exciting note, but not nearly often enough. Most of all, it’s just really dumb and a waste of the material. You can see a better movie in the corners of this one, and it wouldn’t have been so hard to make it with just a few minor changes: Rewrite it, reshoot it, and hire a better director.

The first time Reed stretches his video game quality CGI arm under a doorway, a very dumb girl two seats from me who talked through the entire movie complained, “Ew, that’s nasty.” Seconds later, Johnny Storm delivers the punchline to Reed’s feat: “That’s gross.” Big laugh, especially from the dumb girl who was proud of herself because she broke the joke first. Congratulations, Tim Story, you’ve directed the movie to the remedial level of audience comprehension. Care to try for the next level up or even higher, for those of us watching who aren’t complete morons? No, you didn’t. What a fucking shame.

To bring all this to full circle, the scene I referenced at the start where Sue scolds Johnny comes about because he has disobeyed the team’s instructions to remain out of the public eye. Instead he has turned himself into a teen idol, soaking up the fame and the adoration of hot women. Sue tells him that he’s just a fad to them, but he scoffs, “These people love me!”

In a better movie, or even a sitcom like The Brady Bunch or Growing Pains, Johnny would then learn that he is just an amusing sideshow to the masses and the people that truly care about him are his invisible sister, the elastic guy who’s in love with his sister, and that orange rock man, no relation. Fantastic Four failed to even follow up on that subplot. It gets dropped entirely. If the filmmakers are expecting to pick that story thread up in a sequel, they just might be the most deluded of true believers.