Behind Enemy Lines (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


There was a great movie buried in here somewhere, but it never came out.

Owen Wilson played a disgruntled American naval aviator, a navigator whose plane was shot down while doing routine NATO reconnaissance over some part of the former Yugoslavia. The bad guys brought him down in order to prevent him from returning with photographic evidence of genocide.

He and the pilot parachute to safety, but Wilson has to make it to higher ground in order to radio for help, and while he is gone, he witnesses his pilot being executed by locals. When he contacts his commanding officer, he is told that NATO will not approve an intervention to rescue him because the NATO commander won't approve of any interference that will disrupt the peace process and therefore slow down the NATO withdrawal. 

Thus is the stage set for Owen Wilson to escape on foot from some crazy renegade Eastern European troops who are desperate to avoid a war crime conviction. Owen's own comrades can't help him because of international politics.



That was a solid premise, allowing for action, adventure, and political intrigue. It had clear-cut bad guys. It also had guys in the grey zone: a NATO Admiral who is more of a chickenshit politician than a soldier, and an American Admiral who is a warrior, but can't seem to find it in himself to "do the right thing" because he can't disobey a direct order. The film gets a special lift because Owen Wilson was beautifully cast as an ordinary guy thrust into an extraordinary situation. He has no special muscles, he's scared shitless, and he whines a lot. Just a guy who does what he's gotta do, like most of us.

The first action scene, involving an American plane trying to evade two heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, was breathtaking. The scene where the enemy killed the unsuspecting pilot in cold blood got the audience's attention and involvement. From that moment, we know Wilson is fighting for his life, and we subsequently grit our teeth when we hear there will be no rescue.

Unfortunately, the premise didn't work out realistically, and the entire movie degenerated into silly American flag waving. Some examples:

  • After the American Admiral told the whole story to CNN, there was still no effort to rescue the trapped navigator. You think that would play out with the American public? Let's see if I understand this, Mr President. We know precisely where the man is. He is alone. We are in contact with him. We have plenty of his fellow soldiers volunteering to rescue him. But we won't do it. How many American presidents would be willing to face that press conference? Of course, in real life, the American President could weasel around with the politics or evade the issue before CNN got the story, but not afterwards.
  • The eventual rescue was cathartic, but simply not realistic in several ways, and the cornball coup de grace was when the rescued navigator, no longer disgruntled, asked to get his resignation letter back while they were flying back to the carrier. The elderly Admiral not only happened to be flying the chopper personally, but just happened to have the note in his pocket. Stirring speeches, swelling music, God Bless America.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic, 2.35

  • two commentary tracks

  • deleted scenes

  • "behind the scenes" featurette

Too bad. The many great elements could have made this a very complex and exciting movie, but they let it get away from them in the second half.

Reviews were mixed. The film had great strengths and great weaknesses, and the critics' calls depended on which elements they focused on. 

The Critics Vote

  • General US consensus: two to two and a half stars. Ebert 1.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, 3/5

  • General British consensus: one and a half stars (the nine major British papers averaged 4.1 out of 10, according to the Guardian. BBC scored it 3/5)

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: A pretty good box office, but a mediocre performer for investors because of a substantial cost. It grossed $58 million on a $40 million budget.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. OK action film spoiled by empty-headed, flag-waving ending.

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