Flight Review (Film, 2012)

In Flight, Denzel Washington stumbles around for two hours as a chronic alcoholic, coke fiend, and marijuana enthusiast while slurring out that he’s fine to take the stand in a hearing to determine if his alcohol and drug abuse caused a plane to crash land and kill six people on board. He meets a heroin addict/female savior who tries like hell to get him clean after she OD’d and wound up in the same hospital as him. His lawyer is a cold and calculating man just trying to stop the pilot’s union from taking a financial hit on the crash. His union advocate repeats no less than a dozen times “you can’t drink before the hearing” in his handful of scenes on film. And his drug dealer laughs about the press and comes across as the only realistic and cinematic character in the film.

To say that Flight is a miscalculation is an understatement. Much like an airline pilot forced to flip a plane upside to crash land in a field, Flight feels like the entire cast is flying blind. Perhaps they improvised the entire film and their ability to maintain such consistent key phrases from the big money prize board should be commended.

flightreview Flight Review (Film, 2012)Unfortunately for that theory, there is a credited screenwriter for this pablum. John Gatins (Real Steel, The Shaggy Dog) literally has the cast circle the drain, danging onto poorly repeated metaphors and plot points for the middle hour of the film until anything interesting happens again. The entire “she loves him so she’ll save him” subplot could be cut with no impact on the structure of the story. It’s just another way to shovel in more addiction story cliches into a film that didn’t need them.

Flight starts off with so much potential. The first 30 minutes are a strong thriller about an ill-fated flight. There’s genuine shock value found in opening this film with a clear look into pilot Whip Whitaker’s daily routine. That he can so calmly assure his flight staff that he’s good to take off in the middle of a terrible storm after what he did is shocking. The tension only builds from there until the plane hits the ground.

Director Robert Zemeckis, stepping away from the unyielding death masks of his decade of motion capture nonsense, manages to sell each individual scene as important. There is something of interest or worth in every scene even if it’s the 37th time we’ve seen Denzel Washington reach blackout drunk phase and fall on the floor next to a pile of cocaine. The plane crash and direct lead-in to the hearing at the end of the film are masterfully built sequences of suspense. No amount of visual wizardry or quality acting can connect the dots in a film that, on the page, has no identity of its own.

Ultimately, this is a case of not selling your best assets. Flight could be a tight legal thriller about where to place responsibility in the wake of terrible tragedy. Is it the fault of the unfit pilot? The ill-maintained plane? An act of God? Or some combination of those and other factors? Those are the most effective moments in the two-plus hour feature.

Instead, Flight is mostly a tired character study into the mind of an addict. It has absolutely nothing new to say about those circumstances. Actually, it does say something new, but saying “coke dealers are awesome” isn’t exactly a feel-good positive message.

Rating: 3/10

That’s one point for every John Goodman as a coke dealer scene. He’s almost worth the price of admission.

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