Thursday, November 1, 2012

“Flight” – Ding. You are now free to defy the laws of physics.

Have you ever had a dream about being in an airplane that was crashing? If so, I bet it was the same as mine. The flight is carrying on smoothly when all of a sudden the plane drops and you experience that unmistakable feeling of falling. Only, you don’t wake up right away because, for some reason, your brain has decided you need to experience the sensation for longer than usual. In my dream, the plane becomes translucent and I can actually watch whatever town we’re above racing up to meet us. Considering Flight’s director Robert Zemeckis’ last film was Cast Away, I’m guessing he has this dream frequently and is trying to come to terms with it by scaring the crap out of as many audience members as possible.

I’m sure you’ve seen the previews by now – Denzel Washington piloting a crashing plane and saving it by flying the plane upside down. If you thought simply nose-diving in your dreams was bad, this ought to make you think twice about going near an airport or even riding a pogo stick. But if you need help convincing your subconscious not to dream this, just repeat the following phrase ten times every night before you go to sleep: it is physically impossible for a passenger jet to fly upside without crashing. Maybe that’s not a huge reassurance, but maybe you’ll be able to sleep at night.

I understand that this is movie magic and movies tend to disregard (read: cackle like a lunatic) the laws of nature. You see it in movies all the time and we even have a television show that performs experiments to disprove what you are seeing. Bullets exploding gas tanks, cigarettes igniting trails of gasoline, people flying through windows without getting shredded by the glass, and the Kardashians – these are but a few examples. Now, we’re being asked to believe that a very large passenger jet has the same aerodynamics and engineering as a fighter jet, for what really amounts to no reason other than special effects allow it. This is just as gratuitous as the scene in which the film opens with a blurry female nipple and expands to show us the full head-to-toe in the nude. Mind you, I’m not complaining about seeing a beautiful woman naked, but from a film standpoint it served no purpose.

(Note: What’s the big deal with full frontal female nudity if there’s hair down there? Isn’t this same as staring at a dude’s armpit or Robin Williams with no shirt on? But I digress.)

I did some research into this just to make sure and the consensus is that the closest thing to flying one of these things upside down is performing a barrel role at 1G. If you want to know more, you have access to Google. But, I also learned that the flight scene in the movie is based on the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261 in January of 2000. That flight lost pitch control, forcing the plane into a dive twice (the second time after the pilots recovered from the first), and the pilots tried to fly the plane upside down to recover only to plunge straight into the ocean. Fortunately, Denzel was flying a plane built by a genie, so he was able to fly the plane upside down for several minutes, losing both engines, yet still having a third invisible engine provide power to flip them back over (seriously, this happens). Compounding this ridiculous scene, when one of the overhead baggage compartments opens up, one of the flight attendants gets out of her seat to close it and is subsequently flung around like a rag doll, her body making very loud cracking noises (SPOILER: she dies). Like the physics magic and nudity, gratuitous, gratuitous, and now, gratuitous.

I realize I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on 25 minutes of a 139-minute movie, but it’s the most advertised part of the movie. What the marketers don’t want you to know up front is that this movie isn’t about a miraculous plane crash in which nearly everyone lives, but about an alcoholic being forced to come to terms with his alcoholism. Oh, you see little snippets of it in the previews, Bruce Greenwood telling Denzel that he’s being investigated for flying the plane while drunk (he was also high on cocaine!), but it’s really 95% of the film. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the plane crash scene is so intense (forgetting the impossibility of its conclusion) that the rest of the film plays out like cuddling after sex – it’s nice, but you really just want to go to sleep.

That’s not to disparage the film as a whole. It’s a decent enough movie, if not a little sloppy in the execution. While Denzel does a good job portraying an alcoholic – complete with denial, drunk driving, full-tilt benders, hiding alcohol in all sorts of places, and drinking screwdrivers from a squirt bottle – the movie does a terrible job of everything else. For starters, they cast Kelly Reilly as a heroin addict who is far too supple to be believable as a junkie, Don Cheadle as a supposedly slimy lawyer who comes off as anything but slimy, and waste Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, and John Goodman in far too minor supporting roles. Next, Denzel’s character is somehow able to hide from the press by staying on his family farm for several weeks before anyone figures out where he is. Finally, and most egregiously, they almost completely forget to make the audience sympathize with the good captain. When they could have used the immediate aftermath of the accident to build up is heroics, instead, the investigation into his drunkenness begins almost immediately and he begins drinking roughly nineteen seconds after deciding to quit. The closest thing we get to hero worship is a kid thanking Denzel for saving his mom. I’m no expert, but aren’t you supposed to care about the main character a little before he starts pounding fifths of vodka and snorting coke?

In the days between my screening and the film’s wide release, you’ve probably already seen other reviews and more commercials all but awarding this movie multiple Oscars. If you see this movie, maybe you’ll agree or maybe you won’t, but I can assure you that if you look past Denzel’s accurate portrayal of an alcoholic, you’ll see that this movie isn’t nearly as well-thought-out as it could have been. Ding.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back. The crash scene is worth it, but the movie is way too long; much like the airport security process.

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