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Packed with action

ANAND PARTHASARATHY

After a three-year hiatus, Rob Cohen is back.



BANKABLE Director Rob Cohen (right) with Stealth star, John Lucas.

It's okay to break the sound barrier — as long as you don't simultaneously break the barrier of believability.

For Rob Cohen, his latest viscerally thrilling screen vehicle, might have seemed challenging in the credibility department: a futuristic fighter aircraft, with a computer brain of its own that takes on targets with pin point accuracy, all on its own.

Too bizarre? Not really, says Cohen: the war in Afghanistan and Iraq had the Americans try out quite a few 'smart' unmanned weapons — all hush, hush of course.

But for the hugely successful maker of earthbound action movies, this was a case of upping the ante, sky-high: His last two films were the back-to-back "Fast and Furious" (2001) and "XXX" (2002). One was about tyre-scorching street car racing. The other had the US National Security Agency hiring a practitioner of extreme sports to handle a dicey case in Prague. Both featured today's reigning Hollywood he-man, Vin Diesel. "Check in your brains, before entering the theatre," suggested carping critics — but the public took no notice.

It made Cohen one of today's most bankable directors, though his products are unlikely to excite any notice at Oscar time.

As "Stealth" opens its India run this week (August 5), the same critics are re-examining Rob Cohen's `stealthy' career. He's been around for more than 30 years, producing hits like "The Witches of Eastwick" (1970s); directing cult films like the early 1990s "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story."

One reason why the 49-year-old Cohen has so few films to show in a three-decade career, is because he is against the business of making sequels.

Instead, he takes three years or more to work on his next film.

"Stealth" was crafted like that. With his penchant for the spectacle rather than sub text, Cohen doesn't put too much of his budget into highly paid stars.

In this case, most of the $ 130 million can be seen on the screen, in high voltage, video game-speed action and what's left of the money went into hiring Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx as the three Navy pilots who are ordered to test the unmanned Extreme Deep Invader. (Foxx came cheap because his Oscar winning role as "Ray" Charles, came later.)

Mean machine

But "EDI" is a fast learner and a mean machineEveryone seems to have concluded that he is a take-off on HAL, the famous computer in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." But EDI has a boss — the shady commanding officer played by Sam Shepard.

Cohen's fans are unlikely to demand too much sense or logic. He delivers action, (laced with a romantic subplot) with metronomic regularity. What next for the `Lord of the Loud?'

He's signed up with Sony Pictures for "The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad" — a salute to Arab exploration in the 10th century. But knowing Rob Cohen, the sailing ships will seem to fly only a mite slower than racing cars and rogue planes — because fast and furious is how he does them.

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