It’s been a while since director Robert Zemeckis tackled a film employing actors playing human beings. He has been pursuing the mocap option for some years. In fact his last feature film proper was Cast Away in which Tom Hanks is the only survivor of a plane crash. Flight goes right back to the same situation – with a difference.
Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an airline pilot, though not one who, at first sight, you would choose to fly your plane. We see him waking in his hotel room two hours before he’s due at work. He’s been in bed with a stewardess, and he is well and truly stewed, with a combination of coke and booze. Never mind, he’s used to this routine, and can cover some of his shortcomings with a pair of shades and a cup of black coffee.
And even though the initial take off from Atlanta is rough, he flies through the storm into clear skies, and all the passengers break into spontaneous applause. It’s only a short hop down to Orlando, so all seems to be fine, until a mechanical failure forces the plane into a dive from there is only one exit. Which involves hitting the ground nose first. However Whip – whether from his years of experience or his pickled state, or a combination of the two – comes with a plan so cunning that Baldrick would be jealous, though I suspect Baldrick wouldn’t know how to fly a plane upside down, which is what happens here.
The plane lands with relatively light casualties, and Whip is a hero, and it’s the end f the film. No, sorry, we’ve only had half an hour. We need some issues. Well, one of them is the fact that a toxicology report taken of the pilot reveals the high level of illegal/intoxicating substances in his body. This is going to require a good deal of tap dancing on behalf oh his lawyer to get him out of the potential problem. The other is whether Whip is going to acknowledge that he’s an alcoholic, which he clearly is. Neither of these are very interesting issues, but they take up three quarters of the film.
It’s a Hollywood film, so you can be fairly sure that Whip is not going to stalk defiantly into the sunset clutching a bottle of Jim Beam, while telling the assembled crowds, “My name is Whip Whitaker and I am NOT an alcoholic.” Especially, when the script insists on importing an attractive younger woman (Kelly Reilly) who also has a substance abuse problem which she IS tackling. You get my drift? We’re wandering into worthy but dull country. Washington is good at playing an arrogant prick almost throughout the film, and the early scenes in particular are engrossing. But Zemeckis has a fatal addiction to using rock songs to signal the point he’s trying to make, and the end product is a lot less good than it might have been if the film had been flown upside down.
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