Jamie Foxx fans, beware: Contrary to what the trailers would have you believe, Hollywoods current golden boy is not the star of the new, high-tech action flick Stealth. The editors have punched up his scenes, and he may appear to be the center of attention for the first half-hour, but its clear Foxx signed the supporting actor agreement for this one before he waltzed away with an armful of awards for Ray and Collateral. No, the star of writer-director Rob Cohens new boys-with-toys extravaganza is Josh Lucas, the latest actor to be force-fed to the public as the next Paul Newman. He even went so far as to play a younger version of Newmans character in HBOs recent Empire Falls.
If you squint real hard and plug your ears, maybe, just maybe, you can see the resemblance. But over the course of countless indie films and several attempts at big-money stardom (A Beautiful Mind, Sweet Home Alabama, The Hulk), its clear that Lucas sky-blue eyes are about the only thing he has in common with Newman. Stealth wont do anything to change that perception. As a devil-may-care Navy pilot trying to reason with a schizoid robot plane, Lucas grits his teeth and snarls out orders, exhibiting none of the confident, laid-back attitude that comes naturally to actors like Foxx.
Lucas plays Ben Gannon, one of a trio of flyers including Henry (Foxx) and Kara (Jessica Biel) handpicked for an elite terrorist task force. When theyre not taking out sleeper cells with scuds, the men like to indulge in a little R&R by supporting the sex trade in Burma and Thailand, while Kara sits in her room and waits for the right one. This supposedly blissful synergy is interrupted by the arrival of an unmanned, artificially intelligent stealth plane codenamed EDI, or Extreme Deep Invader. Ive been called that a few times, Henry comments sensitively. The recruits are none too pleased to be joined by a binary companion, and it doesnt take long for their suspicions to be proved right. When EDI gets all vigilante on their asses, Ben has to fly to the aid of his partners and, of course, the world.
Cohen knows junk-food cinema: His street-racer hit The Fast and the Furious was a cornball adrenalin rush, and the James Bond-meets-Maxim epic xXx was hilariously decadent. Those films worked not just because of the technically complex, kick-ass action scenes, but because of the tongue-in-cheek approach. Better yet, they had Vin Diesel, one of the most guileless action stars to stumble across the screen since Keanu Reeves surfed undercover in Point Break.
But with Stealth, Cohen seems to be making a fatuous attempt at seriousness, as if he feels he actually has something to say about the war on terror. The movie has a grim air to it, with the characters often stopping to ponder the fate of Southeast Asia before they blow up large portions of it. The director is still adept at complicated, eye-popping action scenes: Karas crash landing is a particularly thrilling piece of filmmaking. But whenever Lucas tries to summon some intensity through his beady little eyes, the film stops dead in its tracks. If he really wants to be a star, this would-be action hero needs to take a lesson from pros like Newman, Foxx or even Diesel: Never let em see you sweat.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].