Since even before we knew the first thing about building robots, we’ve been obsessed with robots run amok — Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein putting together a biomechanical Golem from the boneyard parts bin, H.G. Wells raining down death and giant mechanical killers in his “War of the Worlds.”
As technology has come to rule more and more of our lives, the robots have gotten more and more threatening: The Terminator; HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But just because movies have been stewing over robots gone wild for a long time doesn’t mean we’ve got it right. With a toolbox of cliches built up for the new millennium, chances are good that the robot movie isn’t going to get any better, even if our robots do.
Case in point: the often disjointed and mostly recycled robot-gone-wrong flick “Stealth.” Obviously a stinker that “Ray” star and newly-crowned Oscar winner Jamie Foxx signed up for before he got his statuette, “Stealth” turns out to be a mishmash of bad writing, bad acting, and bad direction, all crammed into a threadbare bag. Like the planes it takes its name from, “Stealth” is a movie that begs to be ignored.
Here, Josh Lucas plays Ben Gannon, the hotshot leader of a trio of future fighter pilots. Pilots Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Henry Purcell (Foxx) round out the squadron. Assigned to fly the ultra-super-duper Talon fighter jet, the three are surprised when they learn from their commanding officer, Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard), that they are to be joined by a fourth wingman.
But “man” isn’t the right word, as their new addition is “Eddie,” an artificially-intelligent pilotless drone (with a suspiciously HAL-like voice) that can fly circles around the three of them. Nicknamed “Tinman,” the drone is on its way back from a successful strike against terrorist targets when lightning knocks its computer brain for a loop. Back on the ship, over Gannon’s objections, Cummings rushes Tinman back into the air, even though his own techs say it’s on the fritz. Tinman goes back in the air and then predictably goes nuts, blowing up a shipment of nuclear warheads and blanketing a nearby village in radiation. Soon after, the drone refuses to return to base, selecting a target deep inside Russia for annihilation. After that, Gannon’s race is on: both to bring down Tinman and the shadowy military/industrial cabal that built it and wants to see it succeed at any cost.
While all that sounds exciting, it ain’t. By the end of the film, Tinman has touched on every robo-cliche from murder to “It’s developed a sense of guilt!” and has ripped off material from every movie between “Top Gun,” “Robo Cop” and “The Terminator II.” By the final reel, even the barest paws at the film’s intriguing earlier riffs on the siren’s song of “Video Game War” and the nature of consciousness have been abandoned in favor of bigger and better explosions and a completely improbable “escape from North Korea” subplot.
This tinman is hollow, indeed. If it only had a heart …
— David Koon
Fear of “Heights”
Based on the original stage play by Amy Fox, “Heights” is a film adaptation that would have been better left to the stage.
The film is a montage of four or five main characters, their lives intersecting in such a way that each must confront their own lies and hubris. While the direction by Chris Terrio saves the film from some otherwise cliched moments and borderline bad acting, the movie as a whole chokes on its own drama.
In the opening scene, New York theater giant Diane Lee (Glenn Close) chastises two of her acting students for not showing enough passion in their performance. The rebuke provided by Lee mirrors the film’s essential misstep: Its actors must convince the audience of their own passion for the role.
Close delivers the most convincing performance, but her character lacks so much depth and quality that it hardly matters. She can’t salvage the film’s worst missteps — such as Benjamin Stone’s persona as a vindictive homosexual who equates love with narcissism and manipulation. Little serves to fill out the film’s central themes.
Although Fox wrote the screen version, the dynamics between the characters don’t transmit as well on the screen as they do onstage. The audience never gains an emotional connection with the characters, so when the crisis in the story comes — when their identity and self-assurance start to slip — it’s hard to feel any sympathy for them.
The film’s repeated references to theater history added to the disconnection between the audience and the actors. “Heights” is more like an actors’ workshop than a working film. Instead of one interesting and memorable character, it substitutes a dozen emotionally shallow characters — characters that can only move the audience a short distance within the confines of an even shallower plot.
— Dustin Allen