Given the current, almost unprecedented (at least in contemporary times) wave of patriotism and accompanying swell of national pride, "Behind Enemy Lines" probably couldn't be better timed. However, it could have been a better movie.
For one thing, this preposterous military thriller doesn't even make an effort to be believable (it's yet another one of those thrillers that subscribes to the Laws of Movie Marksmanship the good guys can hit anything, while the bad guys miss everything . . . unless it's at point-blank range).
And then there's the extremely dumb decision to cast the goofy, likable Owen Wilson as an action star. That move may have paid off in the comedy/action/Western "Shanghai Noon," but given that this film is a relatively straightforward thriller, it's a mistake of enormous proportions.
Wilson stars as Chris Burnett, a hot-dogging U.S. Navy pilot bored with his current assignment flying non-hostile "observance missions" over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Chris's bad attitude has him on thin ice with his commanding officer, Admiral Riegart (Gene Hackman), who assigns the wisecracking lieutenant to a Christmas Day mission, performing seemingly routine reconnaissance work.
But instead of sticking to the flight path, Chris flies over restricted airspace and finds something he shouldn't Serbian troops massing in the so-called "demilitarized zone." Worse, his jet is shot down and he finds himself pursued by Serb forces. So Chris suddenly has to rely on his wits to escape this extremely bad situation.
What he doesn't know is that rescue plans are still up in the air. While the admiral would like to simply send in the Marines, his NATO higher-ups are more worried about what military action would mean to the fragile peace accord currently in place in that region.
To his credit, John Moore's directorial debut isn't too bad. Sure, he makes some of the same style-over-substance mistakes as many other newcomers, but at times he also makes the material more tense than it probably deserves.
As for the cast, when Wilson has to rely on charm, he's fine, but the angular actor looks a little ridiculous in combat (there's one action scene that's just laughably bad).
Co-star Hackman is solid as usual. But it's disconcerting to see an actor of his esteem in something that not only recalls another movie currently in theaters (the Robert Redford-Brad Pitt vehicle "Spy Game") but which also seems uncomfortably similar to his own "BAT 21" (1988), in which Hackman starred as a pilot downed in "unfriendly" territory.
"Behind Enemy Lines" is rated PG-13 for wartime violence (gunfire, explosions and an execution), scattered profanity (including the so-called, "R-rated" curse word spoken once), gore and some crude humor, as well as crude slang terms. Running time: 108 minutes.