'Flight' Fails to Soar From Beginning to End

Flight is touted as a phenomenal film, but something is missing from the flight plan to may it soar from throughout. Flight wins on performances but may end up as memorable as an in-flight movie.

★ ★  out of 5 buckets | Rental

Rated: R  Intense Action Sequence, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Language and Sexuality/Nudity

Release Date: November 2, 2012

Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writers: John Gatins

Cast: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Tamara Tunie, brian Geraghty, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly

SYNOPSIS:  After a veteran airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, an investigation into the malfunctions reveals that he may have been at fault.

REVIEW: Robert Zemeckis, one of Steven Spielberg's favored directors, has made a name for himself with the Back to the Future trilogy, special effect spectacles like A Christmas CarolBeowulf, and The Polar Express, and dramatic triumphs like Cast AwayReal Steel and Coach Carter writer John Gatins takes to the skies with his script as Zemeckis returns to live action for a more grounded film involving a veteran pilot who becomes both a man of heroics and his share of secrets and struggles.

Captain Whip Whitiaker (Denzel Washington, Safe House) and flight attendant Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez, War) take in a booze- and drug-filled three days sabbatical before returning to active duty on a flight pushing away from a Miami terminal. Joined on the flight crew are lead flight attendant Margaret Thomason (Tamara Tunie, Missed Connections), new co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty, ATM), and co-flight attendant Camelia Satou (Boni Yanagisawa, Bare Knuckles).

When the Captain diverts the flightplan due to severe turbulence, he managed to find some calm air and let the co-pilot take over for the majority of the flight while he gets some shut-eye. When the plane starts shuttering, the tail elevator freezes, and the planes goes into a nose-dive, Captain Whitaker does the unthinkable and rolls the plane onto its back, rights it again out of the dive, and glides the bird into an open field for a crash landing that most of the passengers and crew survive.

Taken to the hospital with a concussion and bruising, Captain Whip becomes an instant celebrity and hero. But as the investigation starts, the Captain's flight fitness is called into question as a select few find out about his blood alcohol level. Whitaker takes to his father's old farm to get away from the spotlight, desperate to change his ways and gain a grip on sobriety. In his corner are pilots' union rep Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood, Super 8), high-powered attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle, Iron-Man 2), drug peddler Harling Mays (John Goodman, Trouble with the Curve), and a just-recovering heroin addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) who seems more serious about recovery than Captain Whitaker.

Flight has been touted by most of the critic as 'terrific', 'riveting', and 'inspiring'. The visuals from the trailer of the daring save of the full flight, and the aftermath of a man who risked trusting his instincts to pull off the nigh-impossible save and suffers with his own share of secrets with the risk of exposure to the world media, would seem to make for a superior dramatic film worthy of Denzel Washington's stature and caliber of acting. I thought this could be the next Leaving Las Vegas. And in some ways, it is.

The first act is about the luxury and status that veteran airline pilots enjoy as commanders of their own vessels. Although divorced with a son, Whitaker enjoys copious amounts of booze, hard drugs, and the affections of a beautiful flight attendant. Even so, his experience and calm in flight saves the day and most of the crew and passengers. The visuals are stunning and the minutes leading up to the crash are intense.

The rest of the film centers around Denzel's Captain Whitaker recovery, the atfermath of the crash and the ensuing investigation, and the decisions Whitaker must come to grips with concerning his own mortality and sobriety. Can he give up abusing legal and illegal substances for good - or at least as long as the investigation hearing?

With roaring rhythms of The Rolling Stones, Denzel Washington's Whitaker swaggers onto the jetways and tarmacs, exuding the confidence that only the indestructible can have. Even after the crash, his survival just reinforces the fact of his own immortality. Also notable in the film is Kelly Reilly's Nicole as the recovering addict who befriends Whitaker at his worst moments at risk to herself. Don Cheadle and John Goodman steal every scene they touch, whether sharing screen-time with Denzel or not.

Cheadle is amazing as the reserved attorney with as much confidence as Denzel's Whitaker. Goodman's turn as Whitaker's drug contact is both hilarious and inspired. Taking a page out of the book of The Big Lebowski, Goodman switches from Walter Sobchak directly to The Dude.

With high hopes for Flight, I was somewhat disappointed. I will never say that Denzel, Reilly, Goodman, and Cheadle are not superior craftsman. They are always brilliant! Their performances are what get this story off the ground. But after the plane crash, the intensity of the story nose-dives into something more akin to a Lifetime Movie of the Week. Zemeckis has proven he has the directing talent with Cast Away and Forrest Gump, but something in Flight is missing that keeps it from completely pushing back from the narrative terminal.

Flight may be touted as a phenomenal film by others, but there is something missing from the flight plan to may it truly soar from beginning to end. A solid film, Flight will win on performances but may end up as memorable a tale as an in-flight movie.

Chuck Ingersoll is the editor and movie reviewing contributor for Hot Butter Reviews. You can find hundreds of reviews at www.HotButterReviews.com.

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