‘Stealth’ takes off with a roar

“Stealth” flies into theaters a bit late in the summer season, but it’s got summer stamped all over it.

Big, bold action. Beautiful stars who could double for Bally’s “after” models. Dialogue that will never make it into any AFI quotation list.

It’s Rob Cohen country. The director behind “The Fast and the Furious” and “XXX” steers his action sequences with the steady hand of a safecracker, so who cares if characterization gets short shrift?

Best of all is EDI (pronounced Eddie), a computer-driven fighter jet that floats, skims and tears through the air with the greatest of ease.

We don’t know how they made them, but the flying sequences should go down as the guiltiest pleasures since Goose, Maverick and Ice Man ruled the skies.

“Stealth” follows a trio of Navy fighter pilots preparing to add a fourth member to their elite squad. The three — Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Kara (Jessica Biel) and Henry (Jamie Foxx) — share an uncommon chemistry that none of them want to spoil.

But orders, as they say, are orders.

Turns out the new edition is a stealth fighter with an artificial brain installed where a pilot should strap in.

That doesn’t sit well with our heroes, but they’re willing to give EDI a chance. They better, since members of the military brass are pretty high on the concept. As Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard) tells them, he’d rather send EDI into battle than have to tell another parent their son or daughter won’t be coming home.

At one point, the leads chew over the ramifications of an impersonal war, but only for a moment. You almost expect the actors to break the fourth wall and say, “just kidding, we’ll get back in our planes now. Sorry.”

EDI performs perfectly in its first official airstrike, but a bolt of lightning strikes it while flying back to base.

That flash turns EDI into Hal 2.0, and suddenly the plane decides to ignore direct orders and strike targets as it sees fit.

It’s up to his fellow fliers to put a stop to it, but how do you stop a nearly perfect weapon?

Mr. Cohen displayed his knack for capturing speed on film with “Furious.” Here, he melds that gift with an intimacy with special effects to often delirious effect. He doles out goose bumps the way Michael Bay (“The Island”) thinks his films do.

In the battle of popcorn auteurs, it’s no contest.

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