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Friday, October 18

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Airbags

Stealth
Loaded with high-speed, high-altitude jet chases and no-brain plot and dialogue, Stealth is the latest testosterone-laden offering from director Rob Cohen, one of the culprits who unleashed Vin Diesel into the world with The Fast and the Furious and XXX. Stealth will probably go down in history as nothing more than the first film co-star Jamie Foxx made after his Oscar win for Ray. The noteworthiness ends there.

I watched the film with a sense of pity for the poor actors who selected this project. It probably seemed like a safe bet when they signed on. A group of three elite Navy pilots (Foxx, Josh Lucas and Jessica Biel) have their mastery of the air challenged when a computer-controlled, talking stealth fighter, nicknamed EDI (Eddie), is unveiled and flies beside the three in a combat mission. Since EDI is a learning machine, it picks up some of the pilots' bad habits, such as disobeying orders. (I think we all learned from Top Gun what rebels those pilots can be.) When a lightning strike fries EDI's wiring, the plane goes haywire and decides to run a fictional war game sequence in the real world, which could result in the destruction of a major city in a hostile country.

If the filmmakers had simply stuck to that story, Stealth might have been a watchable. Instead, time-consuming and dreadfully dull subplots — involving an obvious romance between Lucas and Biel, Foxx's womanizing ways, and the commanding officer's (Sam Shepard, grossly stooping below his talents) desire to get the EDI project going whether the unit is fit for battle or not — all conspire to bog down what should have been a fairly cut-and-dry action flick. But when you first hear EDI talk in a voice clearly lifted from 2001's H.A.L. computer, you know originality isn't the film's mission objective.

At about the halfway mark, the plane (and film) gets into trouble. It acts aggressively toward the three pilots, which results in several ridiculous plot twists. One pilot ends up behind enemy lines in North Korea, one bucks authority to save the stranded pilot, and one ends up dead. You can probably look at the order of the three stars' names on the poster and tell who croaks, so I won't ruin that. But what happens with EDI's ever-increasing intelligence is just dead stupid. The tagline on the aforementioned poster is "Fear the Sky," but it should read "I think, therefore I possess bravado."

The aerial sequences are exciting to a point, but most of them are clearly computer-generated, and therefore slightly fake looking. Stealth bombards us with impossible camera angles of the planes' aerial acrobatics (hey, at least in Top Gun the planes looked real). And while none of the performances are god-awful, the script is so lifeless that none of the leads are given a chance to rise above the poor writing. Oh, and a note to Ms. Biel: As long as you keep agreeing to wear a bikini, they are always going to make you wear one. I'm not complaining, but even your lovely curves ain't saving this puppy. With most Rob Cohen films the idea is that all roads lead to speed, and Stealth is a prime example of that philosophy. Unfortunately, it is not a prime example of good filmmaking.

Happily Ever After
I hate that I'm about to generalize, but my intentions are good. French films are perfect examples of how simply telling someone the plot of a movie in no way does it justice. No finer example of that can be found than in Happily Ever After, the latest relationship drama from writer-director Yvan Attal.

The film is filled with couples that are, to varying degrees, dissatisfied with each other. Married couple Vincent (Attal) and Gabrielle (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are the most traditionally normal of the bunch, but their marriage has lost its passion. We find out early on that Vincent has a long-term mistress, who acts almost as a second wife. Although not aware of the affair, Gabrielle is sinking deeper into her own muddled head due to Vincent's changed emotional tapestry. A chance, wordless encounter at a record store with a stranger (played by a very famous American actor who I will not name because the surprise is too good) leaves her even more confused and fragile.

Vincent has two boorish friends who don't make the situation any clearer. George (Alain Chabat) is married to constantly arguing Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner), while Vincent's swinging bachelor friend Fred (Alain Cohen) makes the single life look way too attractive for these men trapped in marriages in decline. The lives of the other two men aren't nearly as believable as Vincent's, but that doesn't make them any less interesting. As these three misfits roam the city streets from bar to bar, it's hard to miss Attal's admitted inspiration, John Cassavettes' Husbands.

As he did with his previous work, My Wife is an Actress, director Attal (who was most recently seen as an actor in The Interpreter) has a keen sense of the complicated dynamics of a relationship. There is a clear love between his leads, but Attal strips away any romantic illusions that love will rise victorious above the mess these two have created for themselves. If they are lucky, love may be left breathing in the rubble. Attal and Gainsbourg, who have acted together in five films in the last 15 years, including My Wife is an Actress, have some of the greatest screen chemistry in the history of French cinema, and when they lash out at each other, it hurts. Happily Ever After is a biting and gutsy stroll through life's most dangerous minefield. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

The Man Who Copied
From the nation of the Brazil comes the deceptively simple tale of 20-year-old André (L·zaro Ramos, from last year's memorable Madame Satã), an almost penniless man working as a photocopier operator who dreams of being an artist. André is a sweet, harmless guy who still lives with his mother and spies on the lovely 18-year-old Silvia (Leandra Leal), who lives in an apartment building across the street.

André devises plan after plan to meet Sylvia, who works in a clothing store, and once that mission is accomplished, he sets out to win her heart. But first, he needs money. He tries desperately to save the money, but when he feels time is running out, he uses his gifts as a photocopier to produce counterfeit cash. At first it's just a single $50 bill, but as his needs and plans expand, more money is required. When the risk of getting caught seems too high, he does what any other right-thinking, hormonally charged young man would do: he robs a bank with the help of his friend Cardoso (Pedro Cardoso).

As the film progresses, André life becomes more difficult to grab hold of as unexpected people and events seem to plot against him. What I liked about the film is that we're always aware of what André is thinking thanks to an almost constant narration. The filmmakers always make certain we're on his side, despite the fact that technically he's a criminal many times over and a peeping Tom. (Nobody's perfect, right?) The Man Who Copied is an oddly paced, sometimes endearing work sporting a pleasant group of actors in amusing situations. In other words, it's completely watchable but nothing special.

Chaos
Just a strong warning up front: those of you with more sensitive inclinations may want to skip reading this review. you won't be interested in this film. I first heard about Chaos when the organizer of the Chicago-area horror convention/drive-in event, Flashback Weekend, told me he'd booked the film for a special screening at this year's event (Plug: I'm co-hosting the event this weekend, July 29-31, at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare; go to www.flashbackweekend.com for all the details. End plug). Not actually having seen the film, he said he'd heard it was incredibly controversial, brutally violent, and had caused quite a stir at every screening to date. Naturally, I assumed this was all hype. Now that I've seen the film, I promise you it's not. Chaos is a well-crafted horror film, in which the only "monsters" are some truly sick human beings, beginning and ending with director and co-writer David DeFalco.

An unofficial but barely veiled remake of Last House on the Left, Chaos is about brutality without the theatrics (as compared to something like House of 1,000 Corpses, which is almost entirely theatrics). The film is not wall-to-wall killing or raping, but those are certainly some of the sadistic elements in this cautionary tale of two college girls who go to a rave in the woods, stray off the beaten path to score some ecstasy, and are taken captive by four of the nastiest bastards on the planet. Chaos is the worst nightmare you've ever had; what is inflicted upon these women is terrible on every level. To give you any more details about the plot would be doing this highly effective film a disservice.

As much as the bad guys in this film (led by Kevin Gage's terrifying character named Chaos) seem to revel in their depravity, I don't get the sense that DeFalco is celebrating their behavior. If anything, he's shot this film in a very neutral fashion, neither celebrating moments when it appears the women might escape nor dwelling on the evil deeds of the captors. Perhaps the biggest surprise about Chaos is the acting. It's pretty good, particularly the performances of the two girls (Maya Barovich and Chantal Degroat), whose fear and pain seem all too genuine. Another shocker is the appearance of Sage Stallone (Sylvester's son) in one of the villainous roles as Swan. I didn't realize he was in the film until the end credits, but since he's one of the founders of Grindhouse Releasing (which restores and preserves exploitation films), I guess I shouldn't be that surprised he's here.

The suspense and violence of Chaos builds slowly over its barely 70-minute running time. For the first 15 minutes, I thought this was going to be another violence-tease film where the bad guys would jump up and down, waving knives and screaming "Ooga Booga" for most of the film without doing much killing. I almost regret being wrong. Although I've seen far more graphic killings in even mainstream films, the murders in Chaos are so painful and difficult to watch. I wasn't a big fan of the scenes involving one of the girl's parents, who sit at home worrying about their daughter missing curfew, but their little cabin in the woods serves as the setting for the film's bloody climax, so that makes it easy to forgive these otherwise boring characters.

The primary reason that I'm ultimately recommending Chaos is that it delivers exactly what it promises: grindhouse cinema in its purest and most ugly form. A few scenes here repulsed me, and I'm pretty sure that was the intention. A title card at the film's opening almost convinced me that this movie is meant as an educational tool to teach pretty young women not to walk in the woods alone. On a certain level, that's exactly what Chaos is. DeFalco has created his monster, grabbing pieces from other films and surgically removing the best bits. If you consider yourself someone who can watch just about anything on screen, you're about to be tested by a vile little creature called Chaos.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to .

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