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Overall Rating

Awesome: 22.06%
Worth A Look25%
Average: 10.29%
Pretty Bad: 21.32%
Total Crap: 21.32%

9 reviews, 82 user ratings

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Behind Enemy Lines
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by Andrew Howe

"Wasting Wilson is a capital crime"
2 stars

Contrary to what the purists would have you believe, basing your masterwork on a tried-and-tested formula is not a capital crime. Breaking the mould might pacify the critics, but most of Shakespeare’s tragedies were built around a single plot skeleton, and nobody accuses the Bard of adopting a paint-by-numbers approach to playwriting. On the other hand, nobody ever called Hamlet “a haven for thinly drawn characters, unpolished dialogue and stage directions designed to confuse the audience” either, which probably explains why the script for Behind Enemy Lines won’t be making the university reading lists anytime soon.

The film follows the “military rescue” formula, which creates the required tension by inviting a soldier to survive an unplanned foray into enemy territory long enough for his buddies to get him out. This year’s model is Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson), an aerial navigator who crashes the party during the final days of the Bosnian crisis. The Serbians want his head on a plate, but his commanding officer (Gene Hackman) has been informed that sending in the gunships might undermine the peace process, so Burnett is left to fend off a small army and a psychotic sharpshooter who models his career path on the kind of nutcase who gave Tom Berenger so much trouble in Sniper.

Anyone who loved Wilson in Armageddon and Zoolander will be wondering if he’s got what it takes to tackle a lead role - unless he possesses a previously unseen versatility he’s going to be typecast as an amiable neo-hippy, and few lead characters call for those specialised skills. The jury’s still out, but at least Burnett’s personality appears to have been tailored to Wilson’s strengths, since he gives the impression that he should be smoking joints in the radar room instead of flying reconnaissance missions in cutting-edge military hardware.

Wilson’s trademark sensitivity makes a refreshing change from the gung-ho action stereotype, making it easy to believe that Burnett really might be in mortal danger (if Arnie was on board, he’d simply turn the countryside into a graveyard and wander out under his own steam), but the role also calls for an inner strength that Wilson is incapable of believably portraying. Our hero is invested with as much depth as you’d expect from this kind of film (i.e. none), leaving Wilson to do his best with what’s available, but it still results in an unusual protagonist who might have delivered the goods if the rest of the film was up to scratch.

Hackman could discharge his duties in his sleep, and it’s to his credit that he never switches to autopilot, but for most of the film he’s reduced to twiddling his thumbs while proving that naval officers only pretend to be mean SOB’s for the good of the men. Everyone else fades into the background, with the only other performance of note being a rare appearance by Joaquim de Almeida (a.k.a. Bucho from Desperado), who should have gone on to better things but sadly never did.

To Hollywood hacks originality is a mortal sin, and the scriptwriters (Zak Penn and David Veloz) are hell-bent on avoiding the confession box. Everything plays out exactly as you think it will, and the road to the closing credits is a tedious journey to an uninviting destination. Supporting characters wander in and out (a band of rebels were probably identified in the script as “Long Haired Rebel”, “Elvis Rebel” and similar faceless appellations), the major villain is a garden-variety psycho, and Burnett spends most of the running time traipsing through the woods while avoiding the odd ill-aimed shot in his general direction. Even the climactic gunplay is unusually uninspiring (it’s too one-sided), and any attempt to offer a meaningful exploration of the Bosnian issue is conspicuous by its absence.

Director John Moore attempts to shake us from our torpor by letting a madman loose in the editing suite, and it pays the occasional dividend. An aerial combat sequence is breathtaking, but the ground-based action is ill-conceived. I will never sway from my assertion that handheld cameras have no place in an action film – it’s impossible to work out what’s going on when the camera is jerking around like an epileptic marionette, and when you combine it with fast cuts you’re left with action sequences that make you feel like you’re in the midst of the fray (and that is not meant to be a compliment – we’re supposed to be observers, and Napoleon didn’t oversee his battles from a bucking steed three feet deep in the English line).

Behind Enemy Lines is an empty, soulless film which calls for reserves of patience and understanding that are at odds with its inflated price tag. If they’d had the sense to turn it into a fast paced commando rescue flick then Wilson and Hackman might have saved the day, but this tiresome, half-baked game of cat and mouse is another case of too much formula, too little talent. Take my advice and use the price of a ticket to mail the collected works of Shakespeare to the scriptwriters – if we’re lucky, they might just take the hint.

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originally posted: 12/13/01 18:53:15
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User Comments

12/20/18 morris campbell not bad popcorn movie IMHO 4 stars
9/13/17 morris campbell action packed popcorn flick 4 stars
7/21/12 Sean Harrison Who could have imagined Owen Wilson as an action star? 3 stars
5/23/11 Braddock very entertaining movie 4 stars
7/11/09 then came bronson This review has me so pumped I am gonna watch the movie now. lol 2 stars
5/07/09 DK Good film, entertaining, well paced and with enough substance to skate by. 4 stars
8/27/08 Shaun Wallner This movie was Awesome!! Loved It. 5 stars
11/10/07 Alex Köhler Soooo idiotic and unrealistic, even for Hollywood. I served in Bosnia- S.F.O.R. and ... 1 stars
5/01/07 Aaron Johnson i thought it was a really cool movie, one of hackman's best performances since CRIMSON TIDE 5 stars
3/25/07 action movie fan exciting suspensful action movie-one of the best of 2001 4 stars
12/28/06 William Goss A marginally entertaining action flick, perfectly worthy of an afternoon on cable. 4 stars
12/18/06 EAG owen wilson is so hott and this movie rocks! 5 stars
8/30/06 Jarkko Perälä Jingoistic crap 1 stars
7/24/06 BuB It was a tense thriller wicth i enjoyed 5 stars
8/23/05 ES Better when it was called 'BAT 21' 3 stars
7/30/05 bOB THE HOb AFTER reading the movie reviews i realized once again how clueless many people are. It is 4 stars
6/13/05 Sam Its brill and owen is fit 5 stars
6/08/05 JD This movie stinks, it's totally unrealistic, the characters suck, very painful movie. 1 stars
11/17/04 puchacz pilot i like it god damnit!!! 5 stars
8/18/04 T.S. Kendall Great entertainment. Stays focused on storyline. Owen's best showing. 4 stars
5/31/04 Nobody somewhat cliche, but entertaining 3 stars
12/20/03 aren'tweallannonymous the movie was good, but mocks matrix in slo-mo(kinda gay) 4 stars
11/06/03 Debbie The action scenes were great, if a little unrealistic... hey, it is a movie, folks! Owen Wi 4 stars
9/16/03 Mike Pruzie I liked the technical realism. The characters seemd genuine. 4 stars
4/27/03 RP Excellent: I served and knew the facts; these were the facts! 5 stars
4/17/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik (sarcastically) Go America! 1 stars
1/19/03 charlie Hardly believable 2 stars
1/03/03 Annonoymous you all suck at rating movies 5 stars
12/02/02 Jim Wilson & Hackman are entertaining; worth seeing for the final helicopters vs. Serbs battle. 4 stars
8/19/02 Vikram Munikoti Awesome...edge-of-your-seat thriller 5 stars
7/13/02 Jim Bedford The Magnificant Seven Return yet again 5 stars
7/05/02 ! G000000D 4 stars
5/12/02 Matt This movie gives cliches a bad name 1 stars
4/29/02 burt this movie was one of the best i've ever seen in theaters, FUCKING AWESOME 5 stars
4/27/02 Kelly Murphy Good war movie! I love Owen Wilson movies! 5 stars
4/25/02 Ashley Broussard This movie was great..i loved definitely buying it&no one's borrowing it 5 stars
4/04/02 lauren mccreight the ending is so bad thougth i was gonna cry.... 2 stars
2/26/02 ownerofdajoint goodtimerockandrollerkindaflick 4 stars
2/21/02 Jon Fuckin Awesome Movie and awesome soundtrack, owen wilson rulz, i also like the bosnian jay 5 stars
2/21/02 adsfadf asdfadf 5 stars
2/18/02 Carla not bad... just kinda unrealistic at times... good suspense 3 stars
2/15/02 Tim Excellent 5 stars
2/11/02 Vic Only watch of you like war action movies. Very realystic setting. I have been in Bosnia! 4 stars
2/10/02 Owen Wilson My film rocks. Best film this year! 5 stars
2/07/02 Jimbo Ending is very suss but overall a good flick 4 stars
2/05/02 Jerk-OFF-reviewer I love this movie its great. Sorry the other guys have soem problem and cant enjoy it. 5 stars
1/23/02 mikkogwapo the entertaaaaaaaaaaaining...thats the bottom line..isn't it?..... 5 stars
1/16/02 Andrew Carden Quite Good...Hackman's Performance Was Excellent. 4 stars
1/15/02 en f~##ing all right 5 stars
1/10/02 malcolm cool shit, Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman? good enough for me 4 stars
1/08/02 Splard good damn movie, what the fuck is wrong with you sell out movie review bitches 5 stars
1/03/02 Mercury, because it's cool Sorta exagerated, especially at the end, Otherwise, there's a lot of action and suspense. 4 stars
1/02/02 Kelly Young This movie rocked my world 5 stars
12/27/01 Gene Hackman is a fucking hottie. My name is Bill Dawson. I teach Chemistry at Midview High School. If there are any hot guys out there. 458-5327 is my # 1 stars
12/20/01 David Snow I can't believe crap like this still gets made. 1 stars
12/17/01 Mills Not that Bad, I've seen better 4 stars
12/16/01 spaceworm Gene Hackman was in it, so it can't suck complete ass. 2 stars
12/14/01 Private Pyle Could have used more action 3 stars
12/13/01 G-Man Best action movie since........COPLAND!! 1 stars
12/11/01 Jason This was one of the worst movies I have ever seen... 1 stars
12/11/01 Xalt Flaming propaganda delivered by greedy suits. 1 stars
12/11/01 several commas good stuff 5 stars
12/10/01 Trunks You guy's suck I love this movie go suck on a loy pop with mommy 5 stars
12/10/01 Renee Blandford this was an awesome movie, no matter what the critics say. 5 stars
12/10/01 Nastaran FUCKING AWESOME....what more can you say? 5 stars
12/09/01 Marcus Where's my AK47? I'd get the fucker! lol What crap 1 stars
12/09/01 derek deems this film was absolutly terrible. it tries to be the stupidest film ever made. 1 stars
12/08/01 Jim Crap. Crap. Crap. Iron Eagle meets Missing in Action 1 stars
12/08/01 rutt13 entertaining, if a little melodramatic 4 stars
12/07/01 leon russom great action flick 5 stars
12/06/01 Dr. Zachary Smith on numerous close-ups of mr. wilson, plaque was clearly visible on his 2 front teeth. 2 stars
12/04/01 Obi Wan What happened?Movie starts very good, but I expected Marines in end & got HollyWood! 3 stars
12/02/01 marayqw sanhao 5 stars
12/02/01 ajay Owen can only be *one* character which is lame. The ending is so hollywood, it's laughable 3 stars
12/02/01 Superdave Ending sucks, but the first 3/4 are really good 4 stars
12/02/01 The Boy In The Designer Bubble Anything with Owen Wilson is bound to be bad! 1 stars
12/01/01 Mr Math Oh man, this is cheese whiz. 1 stars
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  30-Nov-2001 (PG-13)



Directed by
  John Moore

Written by
  Zak Penn

  Gene Hackman
  Owen Wilson
  David Keith
  Gabriel Macht
  Shane Johnson
  Vladimir Mashkov

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