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The Behind Enemy Lines Trilogy

Behind Enemy Lines (January 26/09)

Behind Enemy Lines casts Owen Wilson as Navy Lieutenant Chris Burnett, a cocky flight navigator who finds himself trapped deep within enemy territory after his aircraft is shot down during a routine reconnaissance mission over Bosnia. There, Burnett is forced to rely on his training (as well as on the ongoing advice from his concerned fellow officers) to avoid the encroaching advances of a rogue Serbian commando (Vladimir Mashkov's Sasha). There's little doubt that Behind Enemy Lines fares best in its opening hour, as screenwriters David Veloz and Zak Penn compensate for the less-than-subtle elements within the storyline (ie Burnett's eye-rolling transformation from hot-dogging pilot to gung-ho soldier) by placing the emphasis on a series of individually-engaging set pieces - including a riveting (and unexpectedly suspenseful) sequence in which Burnett is forced to hide from his pursuers amongst dozens of muddy corpses. There reaches a point, however, at which the increasingly stagnant narrative becomes impossible to overlook, with the repetitiveness of the film's midsection exacerbated by John Moore's aggressively ostentatious visual choices. It subsequently goes without saying that the uniformly strong performances are virtually rendered moot as the film progresses, although Gene Hackman's expectedly stellar turn as Burnett's gruff superior proves effective at periodically lifting the movie out of its doldrums. The end result is an effort that slowly-but-surely squanders its solid premise and impressive cast, which is certainly a shame given the can't-miss nature of the film's set-up.

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Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil (February 9/09)

An expectedly inferior sequel, Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil follows several Navy SEALS (including Nicholas Gonzalez's Robert James and Matt Bushell's Neil Callaghan) as they find themselves trapped within North Korea's hostile borders after their mission is abruptly aborted. Writer/director James Dodson's consistent efforts at emulating the style of the first Behind Enemy Lines ultimately leads to the movie's downfall, as the filmmaker's use of ostentatious visual tricks (ie slow-motion cinematography, ultra-shaky camerawork, rapid-fire editing, etc) effectively transforms each and every one of the action interludes into an incoherent jumble of images. It's consequently not surprising to note that the film is at its best during its more overtly low-key moments, with the behind-the-scenes battle for control of the snafued mission generally faring a whole lot better than the high-octane battle sequences. The presence of inherently compelling performers such as Bruce McGill, Peter Coyote, and Glenn Morshower within the dialogue-based stretches proves effective at sustaining the viewer's interest, and it's worth noting that the film's mildly-watchable atmosphere is due primarily to their collective efforts. Dodson's almost uniformly misguided directorial choices (operatic vocalizing? Really?) pull one out of the proceedings on an all-too-regular basis, however, and Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil finally boasts the feel of a typically overblown direct-to-video actioner.

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Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia (February 16/09)

Though a slight improvement over its immediate predecessor, Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia's dearth of compelling action sequences and abundance of underwritten characters ensures that it ultimately boasts the feel of a pretty standard direct-to-video actioner. Director Tim Matheson - who also appears in a minor role - generally does a nice job of infusing the proceedings with a refreshingly straight forward sense of style, though the filmmaker's penchant for utilizing slow-motion cinematography during high-octane moments grows increasingly tiresome as the movie progresses. The storyline follows grizzled Navy SEALS Sean Macklin (Joe Manganiello) and Carter Holt (Ken Anderson) as they're forced to go behind enemy lines after one of their own is captured by villainous Colombian revolutionaries, while the presence of several smarmy CIA agents in Washington forces the soldiers' stoic commander (Keith David's Scott Boytano) to surreptitiously assist his men. It's worth noting that Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia's central villain - Yancey Arias' Alvaro Cardona - actually comes off as a somewhat sympathetic figure, as screenwriter Tobias Iaconis infuses Cardona with far more depth and subtlety than one generally expects from such an endeavor (ie a typically overblown baddie he's not). The lack of similar character development among the film's heroes effectively prevents the viewer from becoming particularly invested in their perilous undertaking, however, despite better-than-expected performances from both Manganiello and Anderson (with the latter of whom better known as the WWE figure Mr. Kennedy). It's only as the lulls within the narrative become all-too-frequent that Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia steps over the line from watchable time-waster to tedious waste of time, thus ensuring that all three movies share a fairly consistent level of mediocrity.

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