Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis (“Cast Away”)
Written by: John Gatins (“Real Steel”)
Though the circumstances differ a bit, merely hearing the plot of “Flight” will remind people of pilot “Sully” Sullenberger’s miraculous plane landing in the Hudson River in which he was able to spare the lives of all 155 passengers in 2009. Factor in that the film’s main character is not-so-subtly named “Whip” Whitaker and it becomes clear that inspiration is often found straight from the headlines. More than just a new starring vehicle for Denzel “Wash” Washington, “Flight” also marks the return to live-action for director Robert Zemeckis after a 12-year stint in the world of motion-capture animation. It’s a comeback that leaves a lot to be desired.
When a flight piloted by “Whip” Whitaker (Washington) loses control midair, Whip must make dangerous maneuvers to try to save everyone on board. Though the plane crashes, he is able to save a majority of the crew and passengers. When he wakes up, however, he finds an investigation open that reveals drugs and alcohol were found in his system. Along the way, Whip develops a very unique and close relationship with a heroin addict named Nicole (Kelly Reilly)
Considering the talent both behind and in front of the camera, it is staggering just how much of “Flight” doesn’t work. The performance by Washington is solid, but ultimately a little unsatisfying when he isn’t playing drunk. Perhaps the best member of the cast is Don Cheadle, who plays Whip’s defense attorney. One of the biggest problems with “Flight” comes in the form of script and tone issues. At times, the film tries to be “edgy” and dark with its humor. It ultimately misfires. Structurally speaking, Zemeckis spends far too much time on average-written storylines that are uninteresting, often to the point of becoming completely painstaking. Even the cinematography and camera movements are boring and stale.
Though “Flight” is quite strong in its portrayal of Whip’s alcoholism, Zemeckis and company completely dropped the ball with Nicole, who is apparently the most successful recovering heroin addict of all time. There are scenes of the torment that Whip must go through battling with the temptations to drink and scenes that portray how non-functioning he becomes when he drinks too much. And with Nicole? Other than her initial hospitalization for an overdose there are no temptations, no struggles and no withdrawal symptoms. She essentially quits heroin cold turkey. Impressive.
Perhaps the most distressing thing about “Flight” is that the core relationship of the film is woefully unsuccessful. Nicole is introduced to the film in such a disconnected way that it ultimately has nowhere to go as the film moves forward. From that point on Zemeckis force-feeds the relationship between Whip and Nicole to the audience. Not only does it not make sense, it is completely ineffective in registering any type of emotion.
Like the fabled plane in the film, “Flight” has problems almost immediately after it takes off and ultimately crashes and burns. The end result is a flaming pile of wreckage that ironically wouldn’t even be entertaining on an airplane ride. Though the premise of the film is admittedly interesting, “Flight” makes every subsequent turn a wrong one and occasionally nose-dives into excruciatingly bad cinema. One wishes that Zemeckis wouldn’t have been on auto-pilot for his long-awaited return to live-action.