In a recent and barely contained anti-critical screed, author Stephen King gushed, "The American popular culture is my culture, and I don't just live in it; I love it madly" and capped the column by quoting Confederate Railroad: ''I want a culture just as tacky as me.'' King derided "folks who believe art should be work and see entertainment as subversive."
Though I'm sure many observers would disagree, I don't find entertainment subversive, but the implication that American popular culture should be loved unconditionally, like a child or a puppy, is subversive to the notion of art. (And speaking of lowered standards, doesn't King know how many Americans consider reading books "work"?)
King might well love Stealth, a pounding, rah-rah, sci-fi thriller of the skies that makes mulch of Top Gun, Behind Enemy Lines, and, heaven help us, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove. In the near future, the Naval Air Force commissions an elite, anti-terrorist squad. Only three were chosen: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel, and Jamie Foxx.
But after the hotshots prove their mettle, their C.O. announces that a fourth member is on the way: a plane piloted by artificial intelligence. Of course, the new plane, nicknamed "Tin Man" and "EDI" (or "Extreme Deep Intruder," EDI's porn name), is HAL 9000 in our own stratosphere, and it's only a matter of time before it goes nuts.
The script for Stealth is credited to W.D. Richter, who wrote Phil Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, co-wrote Big Trouble in Little China, and directed The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. You're forgiven, then, for wondering if Stealth's stupider moments were meant, by someone cheekier than xXx director Rob Cohen, to be funny.
EDI, America's latest technological innovation, uses his artificial "intelligence" to download every song on the internet, but only ever blasts hard rock (what, no Edith Piaf?) as "he" nukes our enemies. Strangely, he doesn't fit in with our heroes, who "endear" themselves with an early exchange. Lucas: "You know what I think?" All three: "Don't think—drink!" Forgive me for doubting that pre-teen boys will note the irony.
Cohen commands flashy special effects for a few crackerjack action sequences, and he never met an international villain he didn't hate: the Americans fight ululating Muslim terrorists (in so-called "Tajikistan—one of those breakway countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union"), nasty North Koreans, and, ultimately, corrupt American officials. But don't worry, folks, these heroes would never, ever target a single civilian. To prove it, they repeatedly show concern for EDI's collateral damage. "Farmers, Ben. Just farmers!"
Sam Shepard and Joe Morton earn their paychecks providing the artificial gravity, while the stars walk through the picture. Jamie Foxx fans shouldn't expect much, as he plays fourth banana to the other leads and the plane (Short Circuit's Number 5 as a confused adolescent bully). More attention is paid to the forbidden love between Lucas and Biel, various kick-ass perils, the emotional journey of an in-flight computer, and half-hearted philosophizing. Shepard argues that EDI is life-saving; Lucas insists, "I just don't think war should become some kind of video game." Too late.