Ashes to Ashes
A grounded flight. A one-way trip to mediocrity. A film that never gets off the ground. You see, if you're a movie involving airplanes, and you're not that great, you're subject to a series of neverending puns like these.
Such is the case with Flight of the Phoenix, a modern-day update of the Jimmy Stewart starrer from 1965. I haven't seen that film yet, but my sources lead me to believe the remake is exactly the same, only with a glossier finish. I went into Flight of the Phoenix not knowing what to expect, but I ended up feeling underwhelmed. Although this movie includes a decent share of interesting moments, they're too few and far between, which results in the film being nothing more than a bearable but extremely predictable action effort.
Dennis Quaid takes over Stewart's role of Frank Towns, a gruff but lovable pilot whose next assignment, along with his partner A.J. (Tyrese Gibson), is to fly out the crew of a Mongolian oil drilling site gone bust. The crew members, which includes tough employee Kelly (Miranda Otto) and company man Ian (Hugh Laurie), are not pleased about being sent home, but Mother Nature soon deals them an even worse blow. On the flight back home, the plane gets caught in a nasty sandstorm and ends up crashing down somewhere in the desert. With no idea of where they are and only enough food and water for 30 days, the survivors of the crash are clueless about what to do. That is, until Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), a young man who had, until recently, been hanging around in the background, announces that he designs planes for a living -- and that a new, working plane can be built out of the wreckage. With no other options, Towns and the survivors set to work on constructing a new means of getting themselves home while fighting water shortages, sandstorms, and murderous nomads in order to do so.
Like Along Came Polly and Laws of Attraction from earlier this year, Flight of the Phoenix isn't a bad movie, just a very average one, so average that by the time the ending credits are rolling, you're no better off than you were before you walked into the theatre. Flight of the Phoenix left me with a kind of indifferent feeling. The film virtually cancels itself out, as its merits are as strong as its faults, and I didn't really feel one way or the other about what I saw: I liked some of it -- I didn't like some of it.
Dennis Quaid performs a pleasant enough turn as Towns, a role that's not too challenging but showcases Quaid's knack for playing really likable guys. Tyrese Gibson did a decent job as co-pilot A.J., and Giovanni Ribisi had fun with his quirky role as the shady airplane designer who quickly realizes he's essential to the group's escape to civilization and makes sure everyone knows it. But aside from these three actors, the rest of the cast tends to disappear and blend in with one another; Otto's role is nothing special, Laurie does a lesser version of Paul Reiser's Aliens character, and everyone else gets stuck with the same task of yelling at and pushing one another for the remainder of the film.
Director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) accomplishes the admirable objective of crafting a great crash sequence at the beginning of the movie and succeeds in maintaining the film's appropriately gritty atmosphere. But he lacks skill in the storytelling department, allowing the plot to drag along at a slower-than-slow pace, confusing the fates of some characters (without spoiling anything, an element involving one character's death near the end of the film is brought up but left completely unsolved and promptly ignored), and inserting awkward moments (most of all a scene where the crew inexplicably bursts into singing "Hey Ya") that come across like the padding they are.
I doubt if Flight of the Phoenix will affect discerning moviegoers in any positive way. There's much better holiday fare playing at most multiplexes. On the other hand, I think viewers could do a lot worse than seeing a so-so action film like this one.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for some language, action and violence.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.