Behind Enemy Lines movie review: saving Owen Wilson

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Oh my god, is Owen Wilson gonna be a huge star or what? This weekend, millions of people who have never seen Bottle Rocket, have never heard of Wes Anderson, and have no idea that Wilson is a screenwriter of no small talent will be cheering on an Owen Wilson who channels the spirit of Steve McQueen while kicking some collective Bosnian ass and being all that he can be. Cuz Bruce Willis is gettin’ too old for this shit, I guess.

As a military recruitment film, Behind Enemy Lines should be far more effective than that baffling Marines ad that shows up before previews in the multiplex sometimes — you know, the one with the kid battling the fire-demon dragon thingy. The U.S. is rarely menaced by dragons these days, after all, but scumbag Eastern Europeans and by-the-book NATO generals? These are threats to our sovereignty and dignity as Americans that we must face and beat down before the UN can take over the world.

BEL opens all blue-tinged film stock and slo-mo and sad choral music, so you know a Moving and Patriotic military action movie is in the offing (promotional consideration provided by the USS Carl Vinson). Somewhat later, in regular-mo with some Tony Scott zippy fast-forwards thrown in for excitement, Navy navigator Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Wilson: Meet the Parents, Shanghai Noon) and his pilot, Captain Not Long For This World, are shot down — in a truly gripping sequence that will leave you breathless — over Bosnia on Christmas Day, which is only slightly less distressing than if it had been the Fourth of July or Flag Day. Owen had previously been bitching about how this tour of duty was a boring joke, how there’d be no “punching a Nazi at Normandy,” and how they, the noble U.S. troops itching for The Good Fight, were instead “cop[s] walking a beat in a neighborhood no one cares about.” Never fear, though, Owen: Lieutenant Burnett will get to have his two-fisted cake and eat it, too. He will get to punch the Nazi while learning to care about the people in the neighborhood, in the neighborhood, in the neigh-borHOOD.

Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Christians… the complicated details of the mess of the Balkans are not for the likes of this film, nor the dispiriting morass of ancient ethnic hatreds that appears absolutely intractable. The Brits did it already anyway, in the brilliant BBC film Warriors, and much as we love ’em, our Great Friends and Allies, we leave it to them to deal with the moral and political gray areas of such an exasperating conflict; we leave to them the intricate and sometimes inexplicable emotional reactions to an impossible situation. Americans do not make movies about soldiers who wear namby-pamby baby-blue peacekeeper berets or cry when the going gets tough. Just tell us what to shoot.

This film — which, lest I mislead you entirely, is pure verve and energy and will make you want to run out and sign up tomorrow — appears to have been inspired by that one American pilot who was shot down in Bosnia and survived for weeks by eating bugs or whatever. And that would have been a cool movie, like a fictionalized real-life Survivor, but probably not as exhilarating as watching gung-ho American boys break international treaties willy-nilly and then be completely vindicated for such acts because they’re Americans, dammit — they answer to a higher call, that of Peace, Freedom, Justice, and of Doing Whatever We Damn Well Please.

I mean, it’s okay to put thousands of non-American NATO troops and pilots in danger to save one man, right, if he’s a quirkily handsome blond Texan like Owen Wilson? It’s okay, isn’t it, that the straight-arrow American Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman: The Mexican, Under Suspicion), whose boy Owen is, has to be nudged into breaking the rules — NATO does not want him to launch a rescue, being worried about those thousands of non-American NATO troops and pilots and all, for complex political reasons — and that Reigart cannot, by the unspoken laws of these flicks, become our secondary hero, after Owen, until he pulls that stick out of his ass and goes rogue?

But look, c’mon: a band of hotshot Marines are ready for the rescue, even without the threat of dragons to motivate them. We just gotta let ’em go get Owen out, right? Huh? C’mon! He’s an American, dammit!

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