Stealth: Rob Cohen’s Action Adventure, Starring Jamie Foxx

“Top Gun”‘s Best of the Best meet “2001”‘s Hal in “Stealth,” Rob Cohen’s latest sensorial attack, a derivative action-adventurer that unfolds as ultra-produced videogame.

Under the guise of a cautionary tale about the implications of the new sophisticated technology for American military strategy and foreign relations, “Stealth” is an all-surface, CG-heavy popcorn flick that cost north of $120 million. The picture tries to do for the skies what Cohen’s “The Fast and the Furious” (a better picture) did for drag racing, offering a totally visceral experience.

Twenty years ago, we complained about Tony Scott’s “Top Gun,” an MTV-like flick with slick facade that redefined the shape and aesthetics of 1980s blockbusters. “Top Gun,” you may recall, made Tom Cruise a movie star, and the producers of “Stealth” hope their movie would do the same for Josh Lucas, who plays a variation of the Cruise role, the cocky leader of a flying elite.

Yes, there was gay symbolism in the subtext, which Tarantino referred to in his work, and there were blatant metaphors. The flying jet fighters were glamorous, and their macho bravado was filled with male buddy humor. However, what we remember are the signature pieces that became typical of Scott’s pictures: A combo of deafening disco music and heavily stylized visuals that produce empty but exciting montages.

“Stealth” is kind of update of “Top Gun,” with human figures as puppets and banal dialogue that often amounts to one sentence per character. Like “Top Gun,” everything you need to know about “Stealth”‘s story is told in the first reel. The rest is just a series of explosions and special effects. One of the “improvements” in the new picture is that the protagonists have real names; Cruise was named “Maverick.”

Most of the film’s publicity is given to a $2 million, 100,000-ton flight simulator called the Gimbal, which spins, flips, and smashes its human passengers with a huge force. Cohen and his team have designed a Gimbal that had not been seen before, one that can work on a very wide range of motion. To enhance the special and Gimbal’ effects, more than 800 visual shots were planned out.

Watching “Stealth” is like riding a fast roller coaster in a huge amusement park, here practically the entire globe, since the tale switches from one exotic locale to another. The story begins in Nevada, then moves to North Korea’s rugged mountainous terrain, Alaska, and Northern Thailand, before ending at sea, off the coast of San Diego on the USS Carl Vinson, an active aircraft carrier.

In the name of cultural diversity, this Hollywood confection works well for both sexual and racial equality. The central triangle is composed of a handsome white male, a sexy but tough white female, and an appealing black male. Indeed, in “Stealth,” not only the guys get the requisite excitement, incredible action sequences, and buddy-bonding moments.

The semi-erotic scenes in “Top Gun” between Cruise and Kelly McGillis (who played his instructor) are replicated in “Stealth,” with semi-erotic sessions between pilots whore equals, played by Lucas and Jessica Biel. Biel is much more than just a romantic lead: As tough as the boys and as feminine as a real lady, she has it all.

Three U.S. Navy pilots Ben Gannon (Lucas), Kara Wade (Biel), and Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx) are members of a close-knit elite division of test pilots flying highly classified stealth fighter jets, referred to only as Talons. They’re the best of the best, and they know it.

Things change, when commanding officer Captain George Cummings (Sam Shepard) introduces the team to their new wingman, an artificial intelligence-based UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), nicknamed EDI. Indeed, the entire action in “Stealth” revolves around a prototype of a computer driven aircraft, known as EDI (Extreme Deep Invader). The unmanned EDI is sculpturally attractive; its look and sound are both cool and terrifying.

Although Ben is hesitant about taking “the human pilot out of the equation of war,” Cummings orders the team to execute their first real mission alongside EDI. To their amazement, EDI proves to be a cracker-jack wingman and they successfully eliminate their target. However, on the return trip to their base aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson, EDI is struck by lightning. The drone’s brain expands in ways its creators could never have predicted. Despite Ben and Henry’s reservations, Cummings declares EDI ready to rejoin the team in the air.

On their next mission against a nuclear-armed warlord in a remote Chinese province, EDI’s seriously compromised circuitry problems get worse. Ben decides that the risks of the attack far outweigh the benefits. When he aborts the mission, EDI goes against orders and executes the hit anyway. The danger escalates when EDI decides to execute a top-secret mission that, if successful, could spiral into worldwide nuclear Armageddon.

Like many Naval pilots, Ben possesses a cocky arrogance, believing that he’s completely indestructible. Some arrogance is understandable due to the dangers and risks of their jobs. To land an aircraft on a 150-yard strip in the middle of the ocean during a storm, with the boat moving up and down, is rather intense.

Biel plays Lt. Kara Wade, one of a handful of female fighter pilots in the world. Dedicated, strong, smart, Kara is sort of an adrenaline junkie, willing to risk her life every time she flies. Though the only female character, she’s a member of the boys’ club, accepted and treated as equal.

Foxx, in his first post-Oscar winning film (shot before “Ray” was released), plays a disappointingly small and thankless part. Purcell is smart-ass and cocky, but he’s also spiritual; he believes in signs and numerology. Unlike his co-pilots, Purcell believes in technology, seeing EDI as the way of the future. He figures that if there are drones, he won’t have to go out, so he embraces EDI. However, he discovers that, as with any machine, there’s always a problem no matter how subtle the technology.

As written by W.D. Richter, the film is mindlessly plotted, even by standards of “Top Gun.” If in “Top Gun,” the U.S. risked war with Russia, reflecting the political climate during President Reagan’s administration, in “Stealth,” the U.S. is endangering its position vis-a-vis North Korea.

Thematically, “Stealth” is about technology as a monster, a desirable child that surpasses its ability and turns on humans against their better judgment. Taking its cue from Kubrick’s visionary sci-fi, “2001,” EDI is Hal’s grandchild, a machine with a will of its own. EDI taps into computer databases, finds a bunch of hypothetical war games and decides to execute them himself. If in “2001,” Hal was stuck within the spaceship and could only manipulate that enclosed environment, EDI has its own mind and can move freely.

On the surface, “Stealth” concerns the dangers of computers when they become smarter, faster, more creative, self-generating, and self-replicating. If computers have control of our energy, they also have control of our communication and military systems. What will happens if computers decide to exercise free will

The futuristic scenario is not as far out as it might seem. The Navy is already using unmanned combat aerial vehicles for intelligence, surveillance, and dropping weapons on target. The vehicles have become a vital military tool that can be effectively used to make risky mission safer.

There are also superficial speculations about the nature of new war, when the technical equation shifts, due to the ability to create a capable air force of smart drones like EDI. The filmmakers would like us to believe that this capability already exists, that it’s not sci-fi. They claim that the swing-wing, hypersonic fighter-bombers, with pulse detonation engines, are on the naval drawing board but haven’t been executed yet.

Unlike “Top Gun,” there’s a shallow allegorical aspect in “Stealth” about the use and abuse of power. But “Stealth” outdoes “Top Gun” in its one-dimensional and cynical portrait of politicians, military officers, and scientists.

The film is all about technology and special effects (by Digital Domain), played to loud music (by BT), showing Cohen’s fascination by a recent technological advance called Tergen (Terrain Generator), which has the ability to create virtual backgrounds. Hence, to fly over the mountains in Tajikistan, all one has to do is to dial up the real maps of those mountains. Prior to Tergen, to show an aircraft change its position in space, the background had to change its position as well. But now the terrain can be changed to match any move a jet might make, no matter how extreme.

The spectacular explosions in “Stealth” outdo those in “The Island,” directed by Hollywood other explosive expert, Michael Bay. Cohen’s big bangs give Bay’s a run for their money. “Stealth” literally begins with a huge explosion in a cave: A simulation of a big fuel-air explosion over North Korea. The explosions are designed so that everything rolls: The fuel rolls, the cars roll, and the stunt men roll. And theyre all timed sequentially to roll into the various cameras. Reportedly, 500 gallons of gasoline were used in that shot, about 400 gallons more than the norm.

One of the picture’s most impressive sets is an aircraft carrier hangar in Alaska, from which EDI blasts his way out. Cohen claims that he had to ask NASA so to inform different governments that there would be a movie explosion so large that it could be seen from space.

There are other spectacular set pieces. In her biggest scene, Kara is forced to eject from a plane over North Korea. The ejection sequence, with the rig spinning up, down, and sideways, is visceral and intense. The plane goes into a nose spin, forcing Kara to eject from underneath it. Kara’s plane then explodes above her, and fiery debris and chunks of metal falling around her as she plummets toward earth in her parachute, which catches fire. The first release knocks her horizontal in the air, and the second make her spin fast and unraveled. She then suddenly stops four feet above the ground before crashing to the ground.

The concepts of humans destructively colliding with technology, coupled with the absence of humanity at the core of technology, are old ideas ye they give the story some narrative semblance psychological thrust. Mostly, however, “Stealth” is a big summer action flick committed to delivering a visual feast of extraordinary images.

“Stealth” boasts the dubious distinction of showing the biggest explosion ever undertaken in the Southern hemisphere, possibly the largest explosion in film history. I suspect that Cohen will be most gratified if teenagers would say ater watching his thrill ride: “Wow! That’s Awesome!