*1/2 (out of 5)
November 2, 2012
Denzel Washington as WHIP WHITAKER
Bruce Greenwood as CHARLIE ANDERSON
John Goodman as HARLING MAYS
Don Cheadle as HUGH LANG
Kelly Reilly as NICOLE
Nadine Velzaquez as KATERINA MARQUEZ
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
“Flight” is one of those movies that gets more hype for things that really have nothing to do with the action film. The two biggest things I’ve seen talked about with “Flight” was that it starred Denzel Washington. (Hey, who can deny the man has fans out there that will pay to see him in pretty much anything he does.) The other – and probably more important thing – was that this was director Robert Zemeckis’ return to live-action filmmaking.
After winning the Oscar for “Forrest Gump” in the mid-90s and making other critical darlings like “Castaway,” Zemeckis immersed himself in mo-cap digital animation with films like “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol.” The man has been a technocrat filmmaker for years, often letting technology take the center stage in his production in movies like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and the “Back to the Future” sequels.
But Zemeckis reigns in his penchant for special effects to tell a more grounded story, no pun intended.
If you go strictly by the trailers, you’ll think “Flight” is a movie about a pilot named Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) who miraculously makes a crash landing after the equipment fails on his jet. However, when it is discovered that he had alcohol in his system, he comes under fire as the airlines, NTSB and others try to pin the blame on him.
And yes, that is the story… for the first half hour of the film.
The rest of the movie – which amounts to almost two more hours of running time – isn’t the tense courtroom drama you’re led to believe it is. Instead, it’s a morose, moping, cliched movie-of-the week plucked from the Lifetime cable network. You see, Whip doesn’t just have some alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. He has almost three times the legal limit. And cocaine.
So I went to see “Flight” expecting something intense and powerful, a legal game of cat-and-mouse where a small indiscretion of one man leads him to be the fall guy for a corporate conspiracy. I wanted to see a fight. I wanted to see a powerful one-on-one showdown between our hero and the corporate and government machines trying to snake away from their own responsibility.
What I got was a movie about a guy coming to terms with his alcoholism. And with all due respect to people who struggle with such a thing in real life, there is almost no way to present this on film any more without becoming a cliched, derivative film.
We have all the elements from a very special episode of “Family Ties” in play. You see Whip in denial. You see him try to attend an AA meeting. You see him fall off the wagon. You see him in a stupor. You see him (sigh…) throwing a half-filled bottle of booze against a wall in anger. The only thing missing is him ripping a sink out of the wall.
But what makes this film worse is that there is no focus. There is no moral compass. The character isn’t just drunk on the plane. He’s blitzed out of his mind. He’s been up all night, guzzling booze and snorting coke. In fact, the film actually makes the roundabout statement at one point that booze is bad, but a little bit of cocaine should get you up and running in tip-top shape.
What the hell is this movie trying to say?
The only thing likeable about the character is the genuine level of charisma that Washington brings to the role. But at one point in the film, I just realized that I was reacting to Washington’s charms rather than anything likeable in the actual character.
“Flight” could have been a good movie – and I’m sad to say this – if Zemeckis had forgone the human drama he obsesses about and just made a special-effects driven film again. Hell, I’d take Jim Carrey in the uncanny valley as Ebenezer Scrooge over this nonsense any day.