Flight of the Phoenix
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir John Moore
scr Scott Frank, Edward Burns
with Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Tyrese Gibson, Hugh Laurie, Kirk Jones, Tony Curran, Scott Michael Campbell, Jacob Vargas, Kevork Malikyan, Jared Padalecki, Paul Ditchfield
release US 17.Dec.04,
UK 4.Mar.05
04/US Fox 1h53

Pull the other one: The cast sweats it out in the desert

quaid ribisi otto

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Flight of the Phoenix This remake of the classic James Stewart adventure starts intriguingly then dissolves into silliness. Frankly, it's painful to watch such a strong cast struggle so desperately to hold the film together while it falls apart around them.

Pilot Frank Towns (Quaid) and his faithful sidekick AJ (Gibson) fly into deepest Mongolia to airlift the crew of a oil drilling station, including the humourless company boss (Laurie), the feisty project director (Otto) and a collection of brave and/or stubborn colleagues, as well as a nebbish stranger (Ribisi) who claims to be an aerodynamics expert. When they crash in the vast desert, the survivors realise their best hope is to rebuild a plane from the wreckage. Hopefully before nomadic smugglers find them.

It begins promisingly, with sharply drawn characters who clash against each other and the situation. Moments of understanding and compromise, as well as potentially fatal disagreement, pull us into the story. And the principal cast is very good (the others become either interchangeable or bull-headedly stuck on one personality trait). Quaid holds it together effortlessly, as if he actually believes the awful dialog he's asked to spout. Ribisi adds a wonderfully sinister subtext with his Young Hannibal routine. And Otto has the film's pluckiest, most involving role--and also its most thankless.

The first problem is production design. While the epic landscapes and debris-strewn crash site are fine, the characters are shot in over-lit close-up--it looks like it was filmed in a studio with a painted (or computer-added) backdrop. Moore's direction is a little too choreographed. The action scenes are fairly spectacular, but so flawlessly realised that we can't believe them. And then he adds a little Outkast karaoke-dance scene in the middle, as if he needs to break the tension and make us smile!

But even these things would have been acceptable if the film didn't subvert itself with a series of mind-numbingly stupid story elements--corny twists, ludicrous coincidences and, worst of all, extremely lame speeches ("We're not garbage, we're people!") that make us cringe in real horror. In the end it's watchable, but only just.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 25.Dec.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Flight of the Phoenix Timothy Yoselow. Norman, Ok: 1/5 "I went and saw this at the dollar theatre for 50 cents. I walked out intending to write John Moore for my 50 cents back with a written apology then to have God give me my 2 hours of life back that I wasted watching that movie. Dennis Quaid should have never agreed to do this movie, he was the only one who saved it. Bad one liners, Horrible Montage, and korny ending with everyone high-fiving as they are getting shot at made me laugh because it was so awful. I hope they can fire it off in the last shot. Worst, Movie, Ever." (27.Apr.05)
2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall