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Another remake bites the dust

A review of Flight Of The Phoenix (PG-13)


The mysterious and eccentric Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi, - foreground) insists that he is the only hope for a group - of passengers of a downed plane in The Flight Of The - Phoenix.
  • The mysterious and eccentric Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi, foreground) insists that he is the only hope for a group of passengers of a downed plane in The Flight Of The Phoenix.

Flight Of The Phoenix (PG-13)
20th Century Fox

This remake of Robert Aldrich's revered 1965 classic would be 15 percent better if not for its abysmal use of pop music, and it would be 100 percent better if Aldrich's son William had never thought to ride on his father's coattails by producing it in the first place.

Dennis Quaid does an admirable job in the role that Jimmy Stewart played in the original film as Frank Towns, a cargo plane pilot on a mission to evacuate an oil rig staff in the middle of the Gobi desert. The film's expertly filmed plane crash sequence is an intense episode that sets a high watermark that the movie never again achieves as a group of survivors attempt to escape from their desert prison.

Director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) falters in all areas of suspense and pacing with a dialogue indigent script by Scott Frank (Minority Report) and Edward Burns (She's The One). Giovanni Ribisi does a lot with a little as Elliott, a nerdy airplane designer who insists that the survivors can construct a new aircraft from their broken airplane to fly out of their desolate sand trap.

Todd Haynes' poignant Far From Heaven demonstrated Dennis Quaid's impressive range more than 20 years after his affecting 1979 debut in Breaking Away, and put the actor's name on critics' lips as a star to be reckoned with. Inclined audiences currently have a rare opportunity to compare Quaid in two very contrasting performances between Flight Of The Phoenix and In Good Company, in which Quaid plays a demoted magazine ad man. Comparing Quaid's divergent work to an overexposed actor like Jude Law reveals the difference between a pure technician (Law) and an elemental actor who is frequently more interesting than the role he fulfills.

There is a significant moment of power struggle in Flight Of The Phoenix when Ribisi's repressed and insecure character Elliott demands that every survivor politely ask his permission to rebuild their wrecked airplane. Frank (Quaid) comes to the group meeting late, but adjusts his manner to bequeath Elliott his somewhat shameful wish. His face is so strong and intimidating that you start to imagine his possible words long before he speaks. There's body language at play too that utters an ever-thickening subtext beneath Frank's admission that Elliott is indeed the "boss of everybody." The scene operates on the minuscule changes in Quaid's face that exert a pure intentionality of command.

The Flight Of The Phoenix starts to crumble whenever it delves into montage sequences meant to speed along action that would be much better served if the audience were included in the process of watching the characters interact. The thrill of all escape movies (see The Great Escape) lies in observing the minute details of the daily rituals and struggle that lead up to the hoped-for moment of freedom. But the screenwriters here are more interested in glossing over the nitty-gritty details of the characters' efforts to build a plane from scrap. Instead we get an insipid group dance montage to Outkast's interminably annoying "Hey Ya" that comes as a music video sequence stuck in the middle of what should be a nonstop suspense ride.

Dennis Quaid's stalwart performance as a Hellcat pilot and natural leader of men doesn't rescue the movie from its complete lack of convincing dialogue or flaccid plotting, but he does give the movie its dynamic character hook. He makes being stranded in the Gobi desert for two hours entertaining even if the movie isn't.

-- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

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