“Flight” Review: Reaches Maximum Altitude Too Early

By Wesley Emblidge

Denzel Washington looks at the plane wreck in “Flight”

It’s been a long 12 years since director Robert Zemeckis made his last live-action film. Ever since “Cast Away” in 2000, he’s been lost in the uncanny valley, making a number of motion-capture animated films that ranged from creepy looking (“The Polar Express”) to laughably bad (“Beowulf”). Zemeckis is a director I really like, “Back to the Future” is good enough to make up for any bad film, but I was really sick of all his ugly animated movies. So learning that he was returning to live action again was exciting, and finding out what the movie itself made me even more so. Sadly Zemeckis’ latest, “Flight,” is a really blatantly obvious film that ends up being nothing like the high caliber movie you’d expect from this Academy Award winner.

Although it may not admit it, “Flight” is loosely based on the 2009 incident where pilot Sully Sullenberger landed a plane in an emergency on the Hudson river, without a single casualty. Sullenberger instantly became an American hero and immensely respected pilot. In “Flight,” captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington, and no, that name is not a joke) is forced into a similar situation, and lands a plane in a field with very few casualties, resulting in all of what happened to Sullenberger. However “Flight” adds in the complication of Whitaker being drunk and high while piloting the plane, which due to the six dead from the crash, could lead to a life in prison. That may sound like a setup for a really compelling legal drama, and I agree, this definitely had a lot of potential. Instead, the film ends up being a bland uninteresting drama about drug/alcohol addiction, saved only by Zemeckis’ direction and a few of the cast members.

In general it’s hard to make an interesting movie about addiction anymore; there’s only so much that can be said. However screenwriter John Gatins (“Real Steel”) does an especially poor job of making anything that happens for most of the movie have any real consequences and as a result, have any stakes or drama. The plane crash itself is the best part of the movie, a really great gripping scene, but it comes early on and everything after it is fairly mediocre.

It would be fine if the movie was just boring, but it gets really annoying at points too. One of the big themes brought up in the movie relates to why exactly God makes decisions (such as crashing the plane) that affect people’s lives so negatively. And the reason I know that it’s one of the themes is because characters ask it out loud over and over again for the whole runtime.

The cast elevates the script a little bit, but not enough to really get it off the ground. Washington is good, nothing too outstanding, but it never ends up being a very showy role anyway. Everyone in the cast that gets a fair amount of screentime is the same, they’re all just good. The real standouts are people with only five minutes or so, like John Goodman as Whitaker’s coke dealer, or James Badge Dale as a cancer patient in the hospital Whitaker stays at. Both of them are great, but don’t get nearly enough to do. Dale is really only there to blatantly spurt out some of the films themes before disappearing for the rest of the film.

It’s not really that bad, just so disappointing from this cast and director. I still hope Zemeckis stays with live-action, and maybe just chooses a better screenplay for his next outing. If you’re looking for some bland Oscar-bait, you could do worse, but if you want an actually compelling film, don’t stay past the plane crash, or you’ll go down with it.

2.5/5 Stars