- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Are elite film critics waging a cultural jihad against action movies?

Action director Rob Cohen thinks so.

“Movie critics are kind of like [extremist] Muslims,” he says. “They are terrorists on a culture they don’t respect. [Critics] look at it like it’s pop culture and the growth of barbarians, but … it’s the touchstone of international world culture, and they’ll have to suck that up because it’s the truth.”

Like his peers in the action genre, Mr. Cohen cares less about subtext than spectacle. He shoots to thrill. When his 2001 smash “The Fast and the Furious” elevated him to the blockbuster A-list, critics set their sights on his oeuvre, at least as he sees it.

“I can’t say I don’t care [about the chilly reception],” Mr. Cohen admits.

The director is in town to promote his new feature, “Stealth,” which follows a trio of elite pilots who learn that a computer-guided stealth fighter is joining their squad. He sees movies, action movies in particular, as striking universal chords that transcend national borders.

“One finds universal archetypes more easily in the action format,” he says. “So it’s the perfect multinational subject. This is probably the heart of what critics are about in terms of their hatred of this genre.”

Mr. Cohen began his career as a hit-making producer (1975’s “Mahogany,” 1987’s “The Witches of Eastwick,” 1990’s “Bird on a Wire”) before settling into the director’s chair. His early films — “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” (1993) and “Dragonheart” (1996) — drew not inconsiderable crowds, but it was his testosterone-soaked “Furious” that convinced Hollywood he knew what young audiences crave.

Mr. Cohen, dressed like a Hollywood player in a light linen jacket, T-shirt and sneakers, says “Stealth” fits right into his resume.

“It’s always good when you read a screenplay and you say, ‘No wonder they sent this to me,’” he says. “These jets are as fast as you can go on Earth. After this, you’re in a galaxy far, far away.”

Few directors can convey the giddy thrill of speed better than Mr. Cohen.

For “Furious,” he took moviegoers inside the car engines to make us feel every tick of the tachometer.

“The first jump you have to make is that speed looks different than it feels,” he says. “It’s not simply going fast with a car. You have to climb inside the experience.”

He took a spin in a souped-up street car before shooting “Furious” — telling the driver to go as fast as safety would allow.

“I realized why speed is exhilarating,” he says. “It’s because it’s out of control. That’s what makes it dangerous. You’re playing at the edge of physics when you’re in a street race.”

“Stealth” upped the ante, presenting the challenge of conveying the blazing speeds attained by state-of-the-art Navy aircraft.

True to form, the film’s flying sequences astound. It’s not hard to imagine audiences, particularly teenagers, reveling in such moments.

In a way, Mr. Cohen is still one of them.

“I think I never grew up,” the fiftysomething director says. “I’m still 16 in my head. Maybe I’ll grant that I’m 25 now. I took up surfing two years ago, and it changed my entire life.”

Mr. Cohen, whose next feature is “The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad,” starring Keanu Reeves, says even if critics never come around to his brand of cinema, the young will still have his back.

“The greatest superlative I get is when some kid comes up to me and says, ‘The Fast and the Furious’ is the most dope … movie I ever saw,’ ” he says.

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