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Remake crashes as badly as the the plane

By Lady Liberty
web posted January 3, 2005

Flight of the Phoenix

* 1/2 out of ****

The surviving passengers of a downed plane lost in the Mongolian desert struggle for their most precious commodity: water. Pictured, left to right are: Scott Michael Campbell as Liddle, Tyrese Gibson as AJ, Miranda Otto as Kelly, Dennis Quaid as Towns, Tony Curran as Rodney, Kirk Jones as Jeremy, and Hugh Laurie as Ian
The surviving passengers of a downed plane lost in the Mongolian desert struggle for their most precious commodity: water. Pictured, left to right are: Scott Michael Campbell as Liddle, Tyrese Gibson as AJ, Miranda Otto as Kelly, Dennis Quaid as Towns, Tony Curran as Rodney, Kirk Jones as Jeremy, and Hugh Laurie as Ian

Back in 1964, a movie about a plane crash and its inventive survivors was released. It did manage to garner a couple of awards nominations (a Best Supporting Actor nod and Best Editing), but it otherwise made very little impact. Flash forward some forty years, and we have the remade Flight of the Phoenix released just in time for holiday movie-goers. I've not seen the original and so can only comment on the remake, but I'm give to understand that the only real changes to the script involved updates of the dialogue to a more modern vernacular. It seems to me that perhaps a few more updates should have been made, not least of which would have been to some of the trite plotlines themselves.

In Flight of the Phoenix, Captain Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) and his partner AJ (Tyrese Gibson) have been charged with evacuating a crew from a test oil well in the wilds of Mongolia. The woman who thought she could find oil there (Kelly, played by Miranda Otto) is furious that no one warned her the project was being shut down, but there's nothing she can do about it. She and her crew of roughnecks reluctantly load their supplies and climb aboard Towns' plane for the long trek to Beijing and, from there, the unemployment line back home. Along for the ride is the singularly unpopular accountant (Ian, played by Hugh Laurie) whose cost/benefit analysis was responsible for shutting down their operation. Although most are disgruntled to see the end of their efforts, some are also pleased to be headed home to their families and their assorted plans for the future. All of that takes an abrupt detour, however, when their cargo plane gets caught in a severe dust storm and endures a crash landing.

Because the storm winds sheered away their radio antenna, they're unable to communicate with the outside world; because Captain Towns was trying to go around the storm when mechanical failures caused the crash, they're off course and no one knows where they are. Though most of the men think they should conserve their food and water as long as possible in the hopes a search will eventually find them, one man believes they can escape the Mongolian desert by getting creative with the supplies they have at hand. Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi) is an egotistical engineer who tells the group he designs planes for a living and that they have everything they need to build a working airplane from the wreckage of the old. Captain Towns must decide whether or not to let the group engage in heavy physical labor that will use up their water more quickly, or if they should take their chances with the small possibility a search will spot them. The Captain's decision is made when he discovers there's something else in the desert with them besides the endless sand.

The Flight of the Phoenix has an interesting if implausible premise. It also boasts one of the best airplane crashes I've ever seen onscreen. I was both fascinated and terrified during the entire sequence. The cinemetography, editing, and special effects merge here to tremendous effect. Unfortunately, the movie goes steadily downhill from there. That's due primarily to a script that, despite the previously mentioned modernization of language, still speaks in early 1960's (read "childish") thoughts. Where a gentleman in the movies forty years ago might have said, "Perhaps you've not thought through that idea adequately," the speaker in the current movie says, "I think a bee stung you in your big dumb head." Oooooh, clever.

Dennis Quaid does what he can with what he's given; Tyrese Gibson, poor man, might not be a bad actor, but he's given so little that it's hard to tell. Miranda Otto is all right as is most of the rest of the cast. It's only Giovanni Ribisi comes out ahead here, and that's in spite of his lines not because of them. He's arrogant, though seems to truly believe he's better than everyone else; he's also naive and secretly knows it. His bravado in an attempt to maintain the facade he wishes to present is both shameless and appalling. I suspect that, though Ribisi will never truly be leading man material, he's going to rake in the cash and the awards as a character actor throughout a long successful career.

If you have nothing else to do on a Saturday afternoon, the truly awesome plane crash and the stellar performance by Ribisi upgrade an otherwise mostly worthless movie into a film that is—just barely— worth the price of admission.

POLITICAL NOTES: There's little here of politics, but there is an interesting discussion of the inherent value of people as opposed to oil profits that likely has application in any number of current day scenarios. Though mention is made of the fact that the plane may have crashed just over the border into China rather than in Mongolia itself, but neither that nor its implications are ever pursued. It would also have been interesting—to say the least!—to hear more about arms dealers and smugglers who ply the border area, but alas! we got short shrift on that, too.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Flight of the Phoenix is rated PG-13 for "some language, action, and violence." Although none of these things are too extreme, the movie isn't suitable for little ones. I suspect it won't hold the interest of teens (beyond, again, that spectacular crash), either. It does have a few redeeming moments as noted above, but by and large I'd suggest you hold out 'til more new movies are released next weekend (if you were too busy over the holidays to see any movies and really want to see one now, I'd suggest you consider other current releases such as Closer, National Treasure, and The Aviator instead).

©2005 by Lady Liberty and ladylibrty.com, all rights reserved.


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