During the Bosnian conflict, an American pilot goes off-mission and witnesses war atrocities before being shot down in hostile territory. America's attempts to rescue him are stymied by NATO and he is left to fend for himself.
As every schoolboy knows, truth is the first casualty of war. Hence the main Hollywood trend post-September 11 seems to be towards skewed events in American military actions. Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down takes patriotic liberties with events in Somalia, while Behind Enemy Lines has Bosnia as the background against which a true story is given a triumphal spin.
In this case it's the tale of Scott O'Grady (fictionalised as Lt. Chris Burnett), a U.S. fighter pilot who was shot down in Bosnia and daringly rescued by American forces against NATO wishes. But there the history lesson ends, and what William Goldman would no doubt refer to as "Hollywood bullshit" is shovelled in by the cartload. But as long as you know that you're being comprehensively frogmarched up the garden path, it's a hell of a ride. Newcomer John Moore steals from all the right places, topping and tailing the movie with "homages" to Top Gun, lifting a Saving Private Ryan one-man-to-rescue motif, while his post-Matrix shooting style owes a lot to Three Kings.
The action sequences are superlative: a missile/jet chase scene is hold-your-breath-'til-you-turn-blue good. There's even the occasional hint of intelligence, as in a scene where the frustrated NATO commander points out to a fuming Hackman that America's demand that they risk the whole peace process for the sake of one soldier is patently batty.
But - and perhaps this element was injected after the World Trade Center attacks - it soon settles, plot-wise at least, into standard Hollywood war movie territory, with swarthy Bosnians in Bad Guys position and the clean-cut Wilson as our golden-haired, all-American hero. So, although the creeping hand of propaganda is in evidence, as long as you're inoculated against the flag-waving histrionics, Behind Enemy Lines is a great deal of brash, ballistic fun.
Despite some blatant product placement (the relentlessly plugged Sky News is owned by Murdoch, as is Fox), this is superior check-your-cerebrum-at-the-popcorn-counter stuff, and none the worse for it.