The U.S. Navy's newest recruit is a mixed bag. Oh, he's a crack fighter pilot, fearless and deadly accurate, but his know-it-all attitude makes him a troublesome team player. In the extended actioner-cum-recruiting tool Stealth, the new guy's gotta get ship-shape PDQ -- or the whole freakin' world might explode.
Meet the plebe, "the future of digital warfare," an unmanned fighter drone with more names than Sean Combs: the dildo-ish Extra Deep Invader; EDI (pronounced "Eddy"); UCAV, short for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle; and "Tinman" (the jocular nickname his human wingmen give him). A radar-evading plane, EDI's tricked out with geegaws like "aerolastic wings" and "a brain like a quantum sponge." Sleek and curvy, EDI looks like a piece of Italian designer furniture, equally at home in the pages of Dwell and on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
EDI is to tag along with the Navy's top three pilots -- -- Jamie Foxx, Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel (no, seriously) -- and soak up the human side of warfare. Returning from a successful mission humanely dispatching ethnic terrorists, EDI gets struck by lightning, which seriously fries his circuits. He goes rogue (among his lesser crimes, downloading songs from the Internet) -- and it's up to our trio of top guns to stop him.
Stealth, directed at Mach 3 by Rob Cohen (Fast and the Furious, XXX), is this season's muddled rah-rah take on the war on terror. In its first hour, the film, however ridiculous, offers up plenty of raw material with real-life corollaries, whether it's concern about automating our war machine past a point of human accountability, or simply riffing on the general anxiety that rapidly advancing technology is screwing up our day-to-day life as much as helping it.
But dramatically, everything goes as haywire as EDI in the film's second half, which plays like a rote search-and-rescue mission. EDI, who as a villain is a kicky successor to 2001's HAL, gets his AI priorities re-arranged in a way that's insulting to science, known behavioral patterns and any decent narrative.
Stealth does feature this summer's biggest explosions (according to press materials, one explosion was so large that nearby countries had to be notified in advance), and plenty of eye-popping, gut-churning aerial effects. The film also has the imprimatur of the Navy, which presumably is A-OK with the depiction of flagrant rule-breaking, shrugged-off attacks on civilians and the implication that its cutting-edge tools are murderous robots. Not surprisingly, Cohen can't find a moment to extrapolate even a teeny lesson about hyper-militarization or our global accountability in today's jittery world, or whether we really want a souped-up ATM machine as our frontline of defense.