The original Behind Enemy Lines is a pimple on the world's collective ass. It stars Owen Wilson as the Great American White Boy and Gene Hackman as a guy standing in a room speaking passionately into a radio transmitter. Inspired by the story of an Imperial pilot shot down over Bosnia during the NATO intervention, the film couldn't be bothered to know anything about the conflict in which it was set. It existed only to impart one single truth: Foreigners are evil.
The Bosnian Serbs? Evil. The Croats? Evil, too. NATO? Craven. And also evil. Only Hackman's 100% red-blooded American Admiral Reigart wants to get Wilson's whiteness back to the Empire where it belongs. Everyone else is trying to kill Wilson or allowing other people to kill Wilson, including the NATO commander, Admiral Piquet. Being French, he's unable to man up and Go Get Our Boy, as Reigart passionately demands. And wouldn't you know it, when Piquet finally authorises a rescue mission, he staffs it with French troops, who of course flee when they come under fire and leave Wilson's whiteness stranded in a foreign land full of swarthy foreign people who are foreign. It's left to Reigart himself, in defiance of orders, to round up some good old Imperial stormtroopers and personally(!) lead the rescue to save the only lives worth saving: American lives.
The real Imperial pilot whose experience was the source for this dreck survived for six days using his SERE training. For those of you don't know what that means--which is to say, everyone reading this blog--SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. It's what to do if you're ever, say, shot down and stranded in enemy territory: how to contact friendlies without giving away your position, how to find food and water, how to not parade around on hilltops so you'll be instantly spotted and captured. Now, I watched this film with an actual SERE instructor, and I delighted in his constant rage and yelling at the screen every time the Wilson character did something guaranteed to get him killed. Of course, you don't need military survival training to know that if you're wearing a mask to blend in with other masked enemy soldiers until you can duck out of sight and escape, you don't take off the mask and turn back to look at the enemy soldiers to see if they saw you move 30 feet away from them. It's no wonder the real pilot sued the studio that produced this film for making him look this dumb. (He lost.)
So Behind Enemy Lines sucked, and no-one liked it, but it broke even at the box office, which in today's Hollywood is enough to warrant a sequel, albeit a completely unrelated direct-to-DVD no-budget in-name-only sequel released five years later.
Behind Enemy Lines 2: Now Owen Wilson-Free! is the story of how stupid and incompetent the Imperial military is. I wouldn't complain about this if the movie dealt with something in which the military actually isn't competent, such as governing areas of which it has no cultural knowledge that are pocketed by guerrilla fighters and child suicide-bombers. But this film portrays our brave sturmtruppen as incompetent at doing what they do best: killing people with lots of skin pigmentation and blowing things up. Hogwash, I say! I submit to you there is no organisation more skilled at killing brown people and blowing things up than our own Imperial military. Now that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Milosevic are gone, we're number one, baby!
The member of the titular Axis of Evil in this case is North Korea. Those crazy Commies have themselves a nuclear weapon that can reach the Empire itself, and it even appears to function! Now if there's one thing we in the Empire don't countenance, it's other countries' being able to retaliate against our homeland if we decide to blow them up real good, so the Emperor orders a team of Navy SEALs (led by Lt. James (Nicholas Gonzalez)) to go in there and destroy the missile silo with the nuclear stuff in it, without even bothering to inform South Korea, the only target the North can reasonably strike back against. What, consult with our allies? Please. The ROKs might get an explanation after the whole thing is over, if we feel like it! The Navy and Air Force argue the merits of their respective proposals--a precision air strike vs. a commando operation--and the Emperor decides on the SEAL option, declaring 'I'm done talking about this!' and ordering the Navy honcho to send in the troops.
Stock footage of Seoul attempts to convince us we're in South Korea before we cut to our SEAL team in a bar somewhere in Bulgaria. Oh, wait, there's some Korean writing on one wall and some Asian people wandered into shot, so I guess the team is in Seoul. A dozen or so names and ranks of the SEALs are flashed on the screen for us, even though most of them aren't even in the bulk of the movie. I didn't care to remember any of them, and I guarantee you won't, either. The film establishes that one of the team members has just had a daughter born back home and refers to himself as immortal, so I immediately pegged him for the grave. To the filmmakers' credit, they appear to have set it up this way on purpose, as this guy pointedly makes it to the end of the movie. They more than make up for it, though, in their slavish obedience to the other post-Saving Private Ryan war movie cliches throughout the picture.
The Imperial decree comes down, and the SEAL team boards a fake "civilian" flight to disguise their parachute drop into North Korea, never-mind that commercial flights from the South don't fly anywhere near Northern airspace lest they be shot down faster than Jesse Jackson at a KKK rally. The Emperor isn't very decisive, though, as he decides to cancel the SEAL team's mission in the middle of their drop. That cocks up the whole enterprise, as three guys have already jumped when the order comes down. Immortal Guy disobeys orders and jumps as well, so now four SEALs are on the ground while the rest just stay on the plane and fly off. Man, if only the military had some kind of, I don't know, 'point of no return' beyond which the mission can't be recalled so that sort of thing doesn't happen....
The four men are told to lay low and await rescue. These highly-trained elite special ops SEALs respond by immediately giving away their position to a Korean child of indeterminate gender. The Navy must be pretty lax in its physical training for SEALs these days, since these guys chase a kid who can't be more than twelve years old over hill and dale yet don't manage to catch him/her before she/he reaches her/his village. Instead of running the other way to at least put some distance between themselves and their original hiding place (presumably where the North Koreans would start searching once they got word from the village), they decide to bust into the kid's house and scream at her/his mother in English. (I'd say it's tough luck that one of the four isn't the Korean interpreter they brought along for this mission, except it's eminently clear they didn't bring an interpreter!) This proves to be an even dumber move than I thought, since a unit of North Korean soldiers just happens to be in this podunk village at this particular time and quick comes a-runnin' to see what all the ruckus is about. In the ensuing Saving Private Ryan-wannabe firefight (desaturated colours, slow-mo, shaky-cam, bloody bullet wounds, the whole business), the filmmakers almost do something right when one of the three soldiers who isn't black is fatally shot. The cliche monster will not be denied, though, so this fellow clings to life until the black guy is kacked. The Movie Gods thus satisfied that The Black Character Has Died First, the white guy is now free to expire. The movie goes into slow motion and plays overbearing sad music so that we'll care about this character we don't know and can't distinguish from any of his buddies. (We don't.)
Immortal Guy and Lt. James are captured and brought before one Cmdr. Hwang (Joseph Stephen Yang). I'm probably one of the only people who saw this movie and got endless amusement out of the range of Korean accents displayed onscreen. Actually, I'm probably one of the only people who saw this movie, period. Yang is an actual Korean, but he doesn't even bother to try to effect a North Korean accent as he interrogates James, who has flashbacks to Master Chief Boytano (Keith David) to keep himself from breaking under torture. This works, of course, because like Jesus Christ, the invocation of Keith David repels evil. Col. Koh Lip (Dennis J. Lee) arrives and takes over the interrogation even though his haircut is way out of regs. He chews out Hwang for his brutality and talks nicely to James in English because he's Korean-American and his Korean is on par with Borat's English. He even flubs his Korean lines a couple of times, but it's not like the director noticed or would've cared if he had!
Now that the SEALs have been captured, the South Korean ambassador storms into the Imperial Palace and reams the Emperor for violating North Korea's sovereignty without consulting or even informing the South. This guy must have balls the size of Alpha Centauri since he repeatedly cuts off the Emperor of the Known World. Man, the Emperor can't get no respect, as earlier the CIA director was also cutting him off. This film really has no conception of the aura of majesty that surrounds the Emperor. It may not mean anything to newspaper cartoonists or redneck southerners, but military officers, diplomats, and government officials don't treat the Imperial Personage like the slow kid from 3rd period English. Oh, and no South Korean ambassador would refer to the East Sea as the "Sea of Japan". And North Koreans wouldn't paint "North Korea" (in Korean) on the sides of their jeeps. That's the South Korean name for the North, the use of which to any Northerner will get you anything from an icy stare to a death sentence, depending on Kim Jong-un's mood that day. I'm just sayin'.
Shockingly, the Empire continues to not negotiate with the North, not even to get the two surviving SEALs back. No, since the SEALs have failed, the Emperor orders the Air Force to proceed with the air strike, which is somehow supposed to lead to war even though the North seems pretty okay with the whole commando strike team attacking its sovereign territory thing, so I don't know why this air strike is so much worse. In a genuine surprise, the South Korean ambassador pushes the Emperor to follow up the air strike with a full-scale invasion of the North to re-unify the peninsula. That the South would advocate preemptive evasion was ridiculous when this movie was made, but I didn't see it until 2009, with Lee Myung-bak in power, and suddenly it doesn't seem quite so ridiculous. So I guess the filmmakers got me there, though really I think the South Koreans only push for war so the Emperor can get all self-righteous and preach peace even as he's calling down air strikes and launching commando raids. So...like the current Emperor, so I guess they got me again....
Where the Empire fails, though, South Korea succeeds, as South Korean special forces (wearing masks so the same two stuntmen can play a dozen of them dying) rescue the two SEALs moments before Immortal Guy was to be executed on Col. Koh's orders. . I was ready to be impressed with the movie for actually allowing non-Americans to do something right, and to rescue Americans at that, but as the scene plays out, most of these elite Korean troopers die in the 'rescue' since they have no plan beyond 'leap out of the forest and start shooting wildly', and Lt. James ends up having to save everybody. James draws a bead on Koh but doesn't fire, because earlier Koh declared they were ch'inggu (friends) and James somehow has it in his head that Koh is sympathetic to his mission. Boy, won't James's face be red when South Korean special forces commander Col. Chung (Hyun-Joo Shin) tells him that the rescue began when Koh started shouting for Immortal Guy to be killed!
The Emperor, having heard that Lt. James is alive, has the exact same conversation with the Air Force and Navy brass about the merits of the air strike vs. the commando team, including some of the same lines verbatim from the earlier scene. I guess that 'I'm done talking about this!' line was so good the director couldn't help but give it to us again. The scene is so similar, in fact, that I think it's actually a different take of that very scene. Did they run out of money to shoot new footage? Or did they just think we wouldn't notice the characters having the exact same conversation they just had half an hour ago? Beggering belief, the Emperor orders James to carry out the strike on the silo.
Now wait just a damn minute. Earlier the Emperor called off the mission when it would've been an entire SEAL team, and when he heard that four SEALs made it onto the ground, he ordered them to hide and await rescue. But now that his entire effective force on the ground consists of one guy, he orders him to carry out the mission? Look, we're not talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, here. Unless you're a cigar-smoking wisecracking Austrian beefcake, you can't single-handedly defeat an entire country!
Never-the-less, that's just what happens. James and the few surviving South Korean special forces attempt to destroy the missile silo. The South Koreans are just there to get killed (except for the one English-speaking Korean they hired to play Col. Chung) while James rips off Predator's 'hero sabotages key heavy machinery in plain sight which causes an explosion that starts the battle' scene. James and Chung are captured again, when Col. Koh appears out of nowhere and orders them released so they can continue their mission. So he is helping the good guys after all? Well why the hell did he order his men to kill Immortal Guy? Why didn't he let South Korea know he'd be willing to turn James over to them so he didn't almost get himself killed in the earlier rescue? It's a good thing for him James took that ch'inggu stuff seriously instead of splitting his head like the 38th parallel. (Get it?)
I don't have the space or the patience to get into how badly this film gets the military wrong (please don't use the term 'chain of command' if you don't know what it means), or the shots of palm trees allegedly establishing South Korea, or the one SEAL who declares that 'Korea believes in the shaman' and so he's relieved that he won't have to die in a godless land. When this fellow dies, he gets a Korean shaman vision, complete with spectral tiger! White pandering: It's not just for American Indian spirituality anymore.
Col. Chung doesn't seem concerned that his entire unit, between the 'rescue' and the destruction of the missile silo, has been wiped out. Well, the only lives that matter are American, so as long as the two SEALs survive and make it home, it's a happy ending. James returns to the Empire to meet up with Master Chief Boytano, allowing Keith David to show us a little of the fine acting that falls from him like manna from Heaven. The film's last line of dialogue is, fittingly, completely wrong in that it has an officer calling an enlisted man 'sir'.
I'll leave you with the words an enlisted man once said to me when I did that very same thing: 'Don't call me sir, son. I work for a living.'