I can tell you if you’ll like this or not. No need to worry about if you’ll agree with this critic or that.
If you are a person that can watch a talented actor like Denzel Washington play an over-the-top crazy cop in Training Day and love it; or Bruce Willis shooting an asteroid out of the sky; perhaps you don’t mind when a cute actress plays a part where she goes into the toughest inner city school, and uses her karate skills to beat up the tough guy and gain respect of the whole school, as they get the highest test scores ever because somebody finally cares about them. If you like any of those goofy premises, you will love this.
If you’re a person that doesn’t like every cliché you’ve seen in an alcohol film before, or you don’t like when a character does something that they would’ve never done – you’ll agree with me — this movie crashes and burns.
Director Robert Zemeckis has done a few films I enjoyed: Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone, and Forrest Gump. He’s done many more films that were disappointing. This is his first live-action film in over 10 years (he was doing all that motion-capture stuff like Polar Express).
Washington has played an alcoholic before. I am still shocked he didn’t get a nomination for playing it low-key in the underrated Courage Under Fire. For some reason, screenwriter John Gatins (himself a recovering alcoholic) gave us the screaming, the crying, the manipulating, and the outrageously unbelievable. That would include Washington having a blood alcohol level of .24 and still walking, talking, and flying a plane. He does this with regularity and nobody ever says a word (they just make faces at how he smells).
When he charmingly talks to the passengers on the intercom, one hand is opening a bottle of vodka because…you know…alcoholics can’t wait another five seconds when nobody would see what they were doing. He also has to drive his car with a Budweiser in hand, because that’s what everyone that drinks does now with such strict DUI laws (especially with pilots, who have been tagged big time over the last decade).
It’s a shame that the opening was stunning and keeps you on the edge of your seat (I’m guessing the movie can’t be edited enough to show on airplanes, huh?). Hey wait…didn’t Zemeckis do Cast Away? Another plane crash film! We get it, Robert. You’re a pilot and that freaks you out, but enough already.
Here’s one of many things that bothers me about the film. It starts with him doing coke, drinking, and showing up to check the airplane out for malfunctions. He trips on a step, but it’s raining and windy. We know he’s wasted, but he seems to be a functioning alcoholic. Yet we wonder about him saving most of the passengers because of the inverted maneuver he pulls. The movie keeps explaining, time and time again, that no other pilot would’ve been able to pull that move off and save everyone. I want to know why a sober Washington, as talented pilot Whip Whitaker, wouldn’t have been able to do that.
I think a more interesting movie would’ve been if Whitaker hadn’t been drunk, but did have alcohol in his system. It could’ve been the FAA trying to nail him for that, even though he was a hero.
I’m also wondering why anybody watching the movie would ever root for this character to get away with it. There’s not a single thing likable about him.
We get to a see a cast of folks trying to get Oscar nominations – Melissa Leo in a throw-away roll as the FAA person trying to nail him.
Don Cheadle started out as an interesting character. He lectured Washington on why what he did was wrong. He then spends the rest of the movie helping Washington. When pilot union man Bruce Greenwood and Cheadle continue to try and help Whitaker, we wonder why. Surely they’re putting their jobs in jeopardy when they call up his drug dealer to give him a few lines of coke to help “sober” him up before a hearing.
Oh, and we’re supposed to laugh at the John Goodman drug dealing character, because…it’s always funny when a fat guy with facial hair and a bag of drugs yells at you not to “touch the merch!”
He also calls a big, African-American security guard Cee Lo (okay, I did chuckle at that).
With Whitaker going on and on hurting and manipulating people, we’re supposed to believe he’s going to have a change of heart and do the right thing (don’t tell me I spoiled it for you; if you don’t see these things coming, you’ve never been to a movie before).
This is more like an Afterschool Special with better acting and production values.
There was a scene with the co-pilot of the airplane in the hospital that I’m not sure I even got. There are scenes with the flight crew at a funeral that were dumb. Oh, and it’s strange how every time Whip goes into a bar for a drink, there’s never a Lakers game on. It’s always Piers Morgan, and he’s talking about the plane crash.
Somebody also has to tell filmmakers we’ve heard enough of the Rolling Stones song Gimme Shelter. Yes, it’s a great tune, but Martin Scorsese has already used it in three films. Let’s go deeper into the Stones catalogue if we must.
For those keeping track – Washington has saved folks on a train, plane, and submarine. I’m not sure which vehicle is next for him; perhaps a blimp or kayak.
Anyway, there was plenty of cheese served on this flight. I’m guessing the millions of folks that will see it opening weekend will be satisfied. I wasn’t.
1 ½ stars out of 5.