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Stealth

Year: 2005
Studio: Columbia
Director: Rob Cohen
Writer: W D Richter
Cast: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx, Richard Roxburgh, Sam Shepard, Joe Morton, John Waters
Hollywood and talking machines go way back. From KITT (Knight Rider) to Twiki (Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century), HAL 9000 (2001) to Threepio and Artoo (the Star Wars saga), VinCENT (The Black Hole) to Sonny (I, Robot), part of our movie and TV folklore has been robots or computers with personalities.

But according to the first law of robotics (that of the fraternity of 70s film and TV producers, rather than Isaac Asimov), they only work if the film treats the robot the same as it treats itself.

If you're talking about a serious scientific account of humanity finding artefacts of the alien civilisation that seeded life on Earth, you'd better have the clever computer say appropriately dry and baleful things. If you're doing a blockbuster space opera full of swashbuckling fun, robots calling each other 'near-sighted scrap pile' and 'overweight glob of grease' are welcome.

An ultra futuristic fighter plane flown by a computerised artificial intelligence device in an action adventure film is a great idea, but Stealth's biggest mistake is that while the movie takes itself seriously, the quasi-human computer (EDI) is far too corny to belong. When the computer says 'I've grown circuits I don't recognise' and the guy says 'You have feelings?' and the computer says 'I feel... sorry', all with a straight face, it's better comedy writing than most comedies so far this year.

EDI flies the fourth Talon bomber in an elite squadron made up of three unfeasibly attractive pilots, Lucas, Biel and Foxx. Told they have an addition to their unit, the gang are unimpressed enough, but when they learn it's a Knight Industries 2000 voice box torn straight out of David Hasselhoff's 1982 Trans Am they're even madder. Especially lead pilot Ben Gannon (Lucas), who objects on the grounds that human beings have 'instincts, feelings, moral judgement.

What's lost on Gannon, his commanding officer and apparently the scriptwriter is that those qualities are exactly what the US military trains its warriors not to have, operating on data and orders. If US soldiers had moral judgement, would they have invaded Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc, etc...?

Because what's also wrong with Stealth is the politics. When so many of the world's people are sick of American isolation on global foreign policy (or getting blown up by it), it's becoming less fun watching them mobilise the latest and coolest weapons and prettiest soldiers in the War on Terror or whatever other military aim they foist on the world.

And then, like the Afghani mujahadeen, their creation turns on them, and EDI is hit by lightning, turning him eeeeevil. He goes rogue, taking off on his own and planning to enact a computer simulation he has in his programming for real, complete with a deadly payload.

It's up to the gorgeous threesome to hunt EDI down before he can rain destruction, and a high octane chase movie ensues while Gannon chases EDI through the air and the North Korean army hunt Kara (Biel) through the bush where EDI has shot her down.

If you can look past the America Runs The World premise and stifle your laughter whenever EDI chatters away like the bastard offspring of ET and an Apple Mac, it's another hearty helping of what Rob Cohen does best.

Shaping up to take Michael Bay's crown now the Island director has gone a bit more cerebral, Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, xXx) specialises in speed freak action, MTV cuts and camera angles, high amp sound design and things that go really fast and explode really spectacularly. He doesn't expect an Oscar, so don't expect a lot of characterisation or performance.

Shot in and around Sydney, all the interiors are at Fox Studios and the jungle of North Korea looks suspiciously like the Blue Mountains. There would have been more of it, but local environmentalists kicked Cohen and hie crew out. And watch out not only for Richard Roxburgh in another American film that should be an embarrassment to his career like Mission Impossible 2, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing, but Aussie acting icon John Waters, whose name doesn't appear in the credits (maybe he saw a final cut).

Big, dumb action fun, and it would have been so in a good way except for the centrepiece of the proceedings - the computer - that's so unintentionally funny it pulls you right out of the film and spoils the whole thing.

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