he most dangerous enemy facing Dennis Quaid and
crew isn't surviving the harsh Gobi desert, or even the murderous
indigenous raiders knocking at their doors, but rather the film's ad
campaign. If you've seen even one ad for the movie, you've basically seen
everything there is to see about "Flight of the Phoenix". The
film's climactic sequence, where the newly rebuilt Phoenix flees an army
of horse-mounted raiders, is one of the trailer's prime shots. Once you've
seen that particular ending, there are only about 2 more minutes of
screentime left in the actual movie. Which brings forth this observation:
Hollywood trailers are basically undermining the need to see a movie.
"Flight of the
Phoenix" is a remake of a 1965 movie of the same name, starring Jimmy
Stewart and an all-star cast that includes Richard Attenborough and Ernest
Borgnine. The remake doesn't have nearly the gravitas of the original, but
then again, what remake nowadays does? I've never heard of, much less
seen, the original, so there is no preconceived judgment on my part going
into the remake. Which is a good thing, because John Moore's movie is so
lacking in ambition or a need to be overly original that if you had seen
the original, you would probably spend all your time talking about how
pointless and unoriginal this remake is.
The always affable Dennis Quaid is Frank Towns, a
hotshot (re: arrogant) pilot who flies into a desolate location somewhere
in the Mongolian desert to pick up the crew of a recently decommissioned
oil well. On their way back to civilization, Frank and co-pilot A.J.
(model Tyrese, showing signs of improvement as an actor after "2
Fast 2 Furious") runs into a massive sandstorm, and ends up
crashing into the floor of the Gobi desert. Two dies during the crash, but
the rest survive. It's here that eccentric plane designer Elliott
(Giovanni Ribisi), the plane's unscheduled passenger, comes up with the
idea to build a new plane out of the remains of Frank's wrecked one.
Meanwhile, murderous raiders are slowly but surely making their way toward
That last part is a bit of a cheat, as the raiders
never really does anything, or indeed ever shows up for any amount of
screentime, until almost the very end. Their presence seems perfunctory,
much like Frank's inexplicable romance with Miranda Otto's Kelly, the only
woman in the crew. There's little point in arguing that Kelly isn't the
token female, as most of the cast are little more than token stereotypes
themselves. Frank, the arrogant All-American pilot; A.J., the loyal, black
friend/underling; Kelly, the fiery redhead; Elliott, the reclusive,
oddball genius. The film even throws in a Mexican with dreams of opening
his own restaurant, an Atheist Arab (!), and the stuffy company man who
believes he's better than the rest.
The script by indie writer/director Edward Burns and
the usually reliable Scott Frank ("Out
of Sight" and "Get
Shorty") never really gives the impression that the survivors are
destined for anything except a happy ending. Even that cliff that Elliott
discovers, that puts a crimp in the newly rebuilt plane's take-off, seems
little more than a minor obstacle to the expected "and they all lived
happily ever after" ending. To offset the lack of any question
regarding the ending, Moore and company offers up a visually impressive
film. The desert location is splendid, and the film has a nice pace that
keeps you entertained to the very predictable end.
Dennis Quaid is such a likeable guy that even when
you know his character is mostly responsible for the crash, you can't help
but like the guy anyway. Miranda Otto, recently removed from Peter
of the Rings" films, does what she can with the limited role, and one can't
help but wish she were in a better movie. The other notable performance is
by Giovanni Ribisi ("Heaven").
I couldn't have come up with a better actor under 30 to play the oddball
Elliott. In 10 years or so, Ribisi will be taking over roles that were
meant for Christopher Walken and John Malkovich. He plays kooky that well.
"Flight of the Phoenix" was directed by
John Moore, who is quickly making a career out of directing movies about
airplanes that crash. His first big Hollywood film was the Owen Wilson
Enemy Lines", about a fighter pilot who crashes, well, behind
enemy lines; then there was "Yeager", about the legendary test
pilot; and now "Phoenix". Moore must really have an affinity for
planes, which may explain why the film's best moments involve the plane's
encounter with the sandstorm, which despite being heavy on CGI and models,
still looks fantastic.
There's little use in wondering what "Flight of
the Phoenix" could have done to be a better movie. There's never
really any doubt that Frank and crew will survive their ordeal in the
desert, and we even expect more deaths than the film actually offers up.
For what it is -- a good old fashion adventure picture -- "Flight of
the Phoenix" is good enough to recommend for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
If nothing else, it's pretty to look at.