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REVIEW: ‘Flight’ never gets off the ground

Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 13:02

 

Good grief. You know a movie probably doesn’t have much to offer when only a minute into the film, the gratuitous sexual material already finds its way on screen. It’s not a great setup for a drama, especially when this same setup has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the film.  

Despite how effective Denzel Washington can be, “Flight” is at least 30 minutes too long and there isn’t nearly enough compelling human drama present to justify its bloated runtime and meandering pace. At some times, it’s quite thrilling and engaging. At others, it’s a certifiable chore to sit through.

 Plane Captain Will “Whip” Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington, is preparing for a flight into Atlanta. After a night of extensive drinking and partying, Whip snorts cocaine to stimulate his senses so he can perform his job without appearing drunk or otherwise impaired. Boarding the plane, he laughs with flight attendants Margaret and Katerina, played by Tamara Tunie and Nadine Velazquez, and nonchalantly sneaks some vodka into his orange juice before takeoff.

  After encountering some harsh turbulence, the plane’s rear rudder malfunctions, causing the whole aircraft to go into an uncontrollable dive. Whip, drunk and high on cocaine, calmly goes through standard procedures with his crew and the passengers and manages to completely invert the plane and level the trajectory hundreds of feet above a rural area. He then flips the plane back over into a gentle glide and crashes into a field, preserving most of the lives onboard.

 Whip later wakes up in a hospital and befriends Nicole, played by Kelly Reilly, a prostitute with a drug problem of her own. Sensing an investigation will soon be coming his way, Whip returns home and dumps all of his booze and shacks up with Nicole for moral support. He then hammers out a solution to try and avoid jail in cooperation with his union boss Charlie, played by Bruce Greenwood, and lawyer Hugh Lang, played by Don Cheadle. Whip must be sober before a safety commission hearing, but his substance abuse may finally catch up to him.

Unfortunately, aside from the appallingly long runtime, “Flight” is bogged down considerably by characters that simply aren’t particularly deep. Nicole is supposed to be a foil to Whip, but her presence isn’t as strong or memorable as it could be. She appears almost out of nowhere near the beginning of the film and her development is weak. We know that she is a troubled drug addict, but her motivations for changing are somewhat tenuous at best. Leaning on Whip as an emotional crutch just doesn’t sell well, and the liaison they develop is laughably bad.

 Adding insult to injury, many of the characters are wholly unlikable and the tone of the film is often just plain mean-spirited. It’s difficult to build sympathy and create appealing human drama this way. Whip routinely lashes out at just about anything. His drug dealer Harling Mays, played by John Goodman, practically cheers on Whip’s self-destruction and even the lawyer who is trying to help Whip encourages unrealistic and entirely unethical behavior for the sake of the company.

  To his credit, Denzel Washington gives everything he has for this role, and his effective moments are indeed noteworthy. Playing a troubled, heartbroken, proud and rebellious pilot produces a couple of solid scenes and he clearly shows why he is one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today. The scene where he drops by his ex-wife’s house in a drunken stupor to see her and their son resonates and hurts us almost as much as it hurts the character.

 Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood also turn in solid if unspectacular performances. Their concern for yet visible antipathy and distaste for Whip becomes apparent early on. A meeting with the three in a restaurant shows just how many walls and barriers must come down if they are to have a chance at preventing jail time and a large number of lawsuits from hitting the company hard.

And when it comes right down to it, this is the kind of material the film seriously needed more of: robust character development, clear direction and a tight focus. Nicole could have been cut from the film entirely and more interactions with Whip’s son and ex-wife would have been nice.

There is a good movie trying to claw its way out of this mess. Sadly, “Flight” is simply a mixed bag and missed opportunity for Director Robert Zemeckis to re-establish himself as one of the more intriguing and fun filmmakers in Hollywood. As much as I don’t like to say it, his glory days of “Back to Future” and “Forrest Gump” seem well behind him.

 

– Sam McConkie is a senior in the technical and professional writing program at USU. He is a keen writer and has been a dedicated gamer for years. Sam can be reached at sambonemcconkie@gmail.com

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