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Behind Enemy Lines - Click to view! BEHIND ENEMY LINES (2001)
Starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman.
Directed by John Moore.
MPAA rating: PG-13

Sitting at my buddy's house awaiting the start of last night's Kings/Lakers game, the conversation turned to movies. A trailer for Behind Enemy Lines came on the screen.

"You seen it?" he asked.

"Nope," I answered, not bothering to tell him that it was playing in front of my mom, dad and little sister at home as we spoke. "Is it any good?"

"Uh...kind of. Don't think, and you'll enjoy that movie."

When I got home at midnight, I popped it in. While I value this friend's opinion, we rarely agree on what's good and what isn't (example: He thinks Vince Carter is the second coming of Michael Jordan. I think he's Harold Minor with an uglier jump shot). And last night he was wrong.

Partly wrong. It's true that Behind Enemy Lines, which stars Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson (Zoolander, Anaconda) won't stretch capabilities of your cerebellum, it's good, solid entertainment that's worth the rental fee.

Wilson stars as Lt. Chris Burnett, a hotshot member of the U.S. navy's aviary division aboard an aircraft carrier somewhere near Bosnia. He becomes so restless with the monotony of the sailing life that he decides to resign. Hackman, a hard-nosed admiral and commander of the ship, who apparently has pushed Burnett hard (the audience doesn't know this until 45 minutes in, when Hackman's character makes a remark to that effect), gives him an ultimatum. If Burnett still wants to quit in two weeks, he's welcome to. But in the meantime he has to carry on as a true soldier should.

Soon after, Burnett and his pilot, known only as Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are dispatched to a pseudo-important mission, and pick up military action in a de-militarized zone not far off their flight path. The Serbs who lay in that area see the jet and shoot it down, leaving its crew behind enemy lines (hence the title).

The remainder of the movie is essentially a chase between Burnett and a Serb mercenary whose mission is to kill him. Meanwhile, Hackman's character plays out the conflict between necessity and political expediency (should he rescue Burnett or not?).

You can probably guess what happens, but I won't reveal it to you here.

The film is very strong for several reasons, but the greatest is the acting and directing. Hackman is truly captivating, and one of the great actors of our time. He tackles a role that has been played in several similar thrillers many times, but does so with grace and a bridled enthusiasm. Wilson is less strong, but isn't the fool sometimes seems to be. Though his past roles have cast him as a witless, sun-bleached beach bum, he reveals another dimension, and proves capable of serious drama.

Director John Moore, though, is clearly the MVP (forgive all of the sports references. It's playoff time) of the film. He handles the film at a satisfyingly quick pace and leaves long dialogue at a minimum. Though not carried along at the ridiculous celerity of, say, Armageddon, the film moves quickly enough, and is peppered with enough action sequences to keep the viewer's attention.

Parents and concerned viewers should be aware, however, that this film is not best suited for family viewing. Peppered generously with profanities (most of them unnecessary), and smattered with a few violent scenes, this movie is one you'll want to confine to adults or kids over 13.

Otherwise, it's an engaging and enjoyable picture. No matter what your friends say.
- Ben Forrest
June 2002
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