Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Further thoughts on FLIGHT since its disappointing NYFF debut last month

Dat ol' devil, drink, along with the wonders of AA, make a not-so-welcome resurgence in the coincidence-prone, starts-like-a-house-afire-before-fizzling-out film, FLIGHT -- which, after making its debut to close the recent New York Film Festival, opens its nationwide theatrical run this Friday.

The new film (from director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins) stars Denzel Washington, one of the few American movie stars who can still pack 'em into theater seats -- even when, as in this film, he plays a fairly obnoxious alcoholic druggie who can still fly a damaged plane more successfully, it would seem, than anyone else in the world.

It is encouraging to have Mr. Zemeckis (shown at right) -- who in former decades delighted us with everything from I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Back to the Future to Forrest Gump and Roger Rabbit -- directing something other than that faintly obnoxious brand of animation he now seems to prefer, but I wish I could feel a bit more welcoming about the end result: a very well-acted, alternately feel-bad/feel-good, manipulative and mostly mediocre movie. Once the wham-bam beginning-and-succeeding-scenes are over -- which, if you've seen the movie's trailer (and what red-blooded citizen possessing a TV set has not?), you know the entire plot-set-up -- there is little to so but sit back and allow yourself to be lulled by coincidence (isn't it handy that she's being tossed out of her apartment just as he arrives on the scene?) and hammered by nonsensical sentimentality (Mr. Washington's big finale epiphany occurs over a character we barely know and thus seems utterly manufactured).

Consequently, we must content ourselves with some very good acting from just about everybody on board. Washington comes up with his most complex characterization since maybe Training Day; it's not his fault that the movie betrays him via its simple-minded plotting and feel-good (through sadness and tears) resolution.

Ditto Kelly Reilly (above, with Washington) as his off-and-on significant other, who is either in the movie for too lengthy a time or not long enough. Ms Reilly has never given anything less than a sterling performance (that I have seen); she brings to the table such specifics that she can handle just about anything thrown her way. But this movie makes, first, too much of her character and then too little.

Zemeckis' and Gatins' use of that wonderful actor John Goodman (above) is another problem. In his couple of major scenes, Goodman registers so strongly and comically that he throws the film off balance. In his final scene, we go from a kind of sleazy, creepy hilarity to the movie's big, faux-emotional set-piece, and these tonal changes are jarring, to say the least.

Other big names on view include Don Cheadle (above, center), Bruce Greenwood (above, right) and Melissa Leo -- all working hard, in roles that are simply beneath their talent. They're fine, all right, but you end expecting more from--not them--their roles. It's Brian Geraghty, in fact, as Washington's co-pilot, who probably comes off best overall, in terms of his performance matching his character's importance to the movie. (That's Tamara Tunie -- below, right -- and Nadine Velasquez as part of Flight's flight crew.)

On balance, I suspect that the trailer for this film, as exciting as it was, does its source a disservice by raising audience expectations for one kind of movie, done well, while actually delivering another, done in only so-so fashion. Flight premieres this Friday, November 2, all over the U.S. and Canada. Click here, and then enter your zip code next to GET TICKETS NOW, and click on GO to learn if the film is playing near you.

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