Can You Really Fly A Passenger Jet Upside Down? As dear old great-grandmother Vonder Haar used to say, you can do anything if you're drunk enough.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two mini Smirnoff Vodka bottles out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Alcoholic pilot makes miraculous emergency landing, remains an alcoholic.
Tagline: "From Robert Zemeckis, the Academy Award winning director of Forrest Gump and Cast Away."
Better Tagline:: "Yes, we're actually using Forrest Gump as a selling point."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a fine pilot, probably the best employed by SouthJet. This comes in handy when a mechanical failure disables his jet's stabilizers, forcing him to crash land. By all accounts, the landing is miraculous, and 98 of the 106 souls on board survive. But Whitaker is also a full-fledged alcoholic who was both drunk and coked to the gills at the time of the flight. Will things like a budding romance with recovering junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly) and the efforts of airline attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) to suppress his toxicology report stop Whitaker's inevitable bottoming out?
"Critical" Analysis: Forrest Gump ruined Robert Zemeckis. Sure; he won his (so far) only Best Director Oscar as a result, but the old Zemeckis — the guy who directed highly enjoyable (Back to the Future) and even subversive (Used Cars) movies — would never return. His subsequent efforts have largely consisted of similarly trite yet self-important flicks like Contact or Cast Away, along with the occasional foray into digital creepiness (The Polar Express, Beowulf). His latest, Flight, belongs squarely in the former camp.
Paramount is marketing this as an "action-packed mystery thriller." This makes sense if "packed" refers to 15 minutes of screen time. The inverted airplane sequence takes place at the beginning of the movie, and is admittedly pretty nifty (not as much as it would've been had they used a real plane, but whatever). The remaining two hours, however, in which we follow Whitaker as he alternately struggles to maintain sobriety and slides further and further into the abyss, are only mysterious if you've never seen one of the 5,000 other cautionary tales about alcoholism Hollywood has churned out to this point.
There is a minor race against time element as Whitaker, Lang, and pilots' union President (and Whip's old friend) Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) try to keep Whip straight until the final NTSB hearing and keep SouthJet from getting its pants sued off by the victims' families, but this is mostly background noise to Washington's drunken scenery chewing.
The two-time Oscar winner is getting a lot of notice for his performance, and rightfully so. Maybe. Is playing a drunk that hard anymore? It was probably pretty impressive back in the Lost Weekend days, but unless you're 12 years old or Tim Tebow, you probably have ample personal experience to draw on. Playing a heroin addict, that's where it's at (and Washington already did that as well, in 1991's Ricochet).
Flight hits the recovering alcoholic high points as well as any 1980s People magazine profile. Whitaker's do-it-yourself attempts at sobriety are predictably unsuccesful, and he adapts a scorched earth policy with regards to his personal relationships, including the improbably-fetching-for-a-heroin-junkie Nicole (if Reilly looks familiar, it's because she's played Dr. Watson's love interest Mary in the last two Sherlock Holmes movies). We're even treated to a [SPOILER ALER] final scene reconciliation that's as cheesy as any Lifetime Network cautionary tale.
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None of this should be very surprising, of course, Screenwriter John Gatins' previous works read like a top ten list of movies for people who loved Tuesdays with Morrie: Coach Carter, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (that's the actual title), Real Steel. Alcoholism remains a serious problem, but it's hard to take seriously when Zemeckis and Gatis have drenched their story in such rank sentimentalism (or, even worse, John Goodman's bizarrely comic turn as Whip's favorite coke dealer).
Washington will likely earn another Academy Award nomination for this. It's just too bad his powerful performance is buried in what amounts to a big budget made-for-TV movie.
Flight is in theaters today. Drink up, everybody.