By Herb Kane | December 14, 2001

CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Jolie Williamson (, Todd Anthony (South Florida Sun-Sentinel), James Berardinelli (, Richard Roeper (Ebert & Roeper and The Movies – Buena Vista TV), , Steve Rosen (, Dave White (, Steve Rhodes (, Gareth Von Kallenbach ( and Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times)
**** (Out of 5 Stars)
When I heard Owen Wilson was going to play an action hero in Behind Enemy Lines, I thought for sure the film was going to bomb. He’s played in too many silly roles to be taken serious. Well, Surprise! Surprise! Owen pulled it off – and critics still shot the film down.
Behind Enemy Lines is about a top naval aviator, Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson). His F/A-18 Superhornet jet gets shot down over Serbia during a reconnaissance mission. Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman) risks his career to organize a renegade rescue mission to save Burnett who is now trapped behind enemy lines.
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) said in his review, “The American uniform will get an audience partly involved, but there needs to be something else, too. ‘Oh no, what will happen to Tom Cruise!’ — that might have worked. ‘Oh no, what will happen to Owen Wilson!’ just doesn’t cut it.”
Sorry, Mick. But your review just doesn’t cut it. Wilson’s regular guy appeal worked and many critics agree:
— “It’s all too easy to imagine such movie-star personalities as Tom Cruise or Nicolas Cage in this role – and too easy to imagine being bored with them.” Jolie Williamson ( ^ — “With his perpetual smirk, average-guy physique and appreciation of the apparent hopelessness of his situation, he makes Burnett an Everyman to whom we can all relate, not some Rambo-esque human cartoon.” Todd Anthony (South Florida Sun-Sentinel) ^ — “Wilson brings an everyman quality to the role. We can easily identify with Burnett – he’s not an Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, or Jean-Claude Van Damme.” James Berardinelli (
Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper both expressed their hatred for this film on “Ebert & Roeper and The Movies (Buena Vista TV).” Roeper said the movie was “a piece of junk.” I wonder what movie theater audiences would call junk – the movie or your TV review, Richard?
Ebert complained about one of the most powerful scenes in the movie and said in his Chicago Sun-Times review, “I smiled during the scene where Admiral Reigart is able to use heat-sensitive satellite imagery to look at high-res silhouettes of Burnett stretched out within feet of the enemy. Maybe this is possible. What I do not believe is that the enemies in this scene could not spot the American uniform in a pile of enemy corpses.”
Why not, Roger? Burnett was partially hidden under a dead body and his uniform was mud-covered. The thought of hiding in a pile of mass-murdered victims was nothing to smile about, though.
Steve Rosen ( said, “This not only is gripping in its own right but is replete with symbolism. The best of modern technology is witnessing the worst of human behavior. At this rare moment, this film transcends entertainment value and bears witness.”
Ebert did make some valid points about Burnett’s stupid involuntary yell (which got him spotted by the bad guys) and he walked through open fields and stood on top of cliffs (making himself a target) while being chased by a sniper.
Even film critic Dave White ( commented, “I could have done without the camera swooping around Wilson on a cliff top like he was Julie Andrews.” Maybe this wasn’t the “Sound of Music,” Dave, but the hills did come alive with the sound of machine guns.
There is a scene where Burnett’s jet is chased by two missiles and is the best action scene in the movie. Most critics thought so, too – even Ebert:
— “The plane’s attempts to elude the missiles supply the movie’s high point.” Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) ^ — “The cat-and-mouse chase between Burnett’s jet and the heat-seeking missiles is extremely exciting, shot from numerous points of view so we feel trapped aboard a gravity-shifting roller coaster.” Steve Rosen (Denver Post) ^ –“With just one plane and two missiles chasing it, Moore fashions an early sequence that will take your breath away and put chills up and down your spine.” Steve Rhodes (
Gareth Von Kallenbach ( said, “Many scenes of the film have a jerky quality to them as if they were shot with a hand held camera. Even a film such as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ had hand held shots that were much easier to follow.”
C’mon, Kallenbach. You’ve got to be kidding! When I got done watching Blair Witch, I got an evil headache – similar to the one I had after reading your review. The hand held camera work gave you raw sense of reality. I liked it!
Jolie Williamson ( summed the movie up best: “”Behind Enemy Lines” is not a priceless work of art – it occasionally dips into the melodramatic, complete with soaring symphonic scores, and relies on last-minute arrivals of help to get the hero out of impossible situations. But that’s no reason not to love it for what it is – an innovative and breathtaking ride that doesn’t stop until the credits roll.”
While Behind Enemy Lines may have some flaws, I’d still get behind theater lines to see it. ^ –CRITIC DOCTOR
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  1. Steve says:

    Sorry, CriticDoctor, I found myself in absolute agreement with Ebert’s review. It’s nice that you’re trying to be nice, but the movie stinks. I’ve seen many war movies, and this one ranks “buck private.” I tried but could not suspend my disbelief, scene after scene. Also, Owen Wilson gave me very little to root for. He was not a likeable character at all.

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