December 31, 2004

"A Decent Little Flick"

by JEREMIAH LEWIS, American Digest Film Editor

"You know, we're likely to be stuck in this desert for years..."

Flight of the Phoenix
3.5 out of 5 stars

Perhaps it was my initial skepticism of yet another Hollywood remake that made me wary of Flight of the Phoenix, or perhaps it was my discontent with the last few films Dennis Quaid has aligned himself with; whatever the matter, I found myself surprised walking out of the theatre. Flight of the Phoenix is quite a decent little flick.

Yes, it is a remake of a 1965 film by the same name, starring Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, and Peter Finch. As remakes usually go, it has the usual updates for current events — Dennis Quaid and his copilot A.J. (Tyrese) exchange some repartee about Bill Clinton, wandering nomads turn out to be gun smugglers, and the passengers are all oil riggers. Though dialogue is less intelligent here, there's definitely more action than the original offers, and

there are some genuinely inspired moments that elevate this from an average crowd-pleaser to a really fun spot of entertainment.

Writers Scott Frank and Edward Burns utilize the limitations of the story well. Dennis Quaid is the owner of an oil drilling company who flies in personally to shut down a failing well operation run by misfits and tough talkers. Flying over the Gobi Desert, they are caught in a fierce sand storm that rips their plane apart, literally. Quaid is the pilot who manages to bring the plane down, but with one engine dead, a limited food and water supply, and inner conflict among the passengers, the situation seems dire.

Quaid wants to sit and wait for a rescue that seems unlikely. Enter Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi). He plays a quiet man who announces that they can rebuild the plane. And so they do. And that's the movie. Simple? Yes. But effectively done? Also yes.

Director John Moore has a good grasp of dramatic tension, utilizing some cool moments to really light the screen and keep viewers in suspense. Interpersonal conflicts, threats from nature and outside invaders, and of course, looming starvation and dehydration, are all effectively combined to form a nice little entertainment package.

It doesn't hurt that Miranda Otto is present; a little tough femininity in a desert place is a choice weapon, one Moore, Burns, and Frank utilize to great advantage.

Given that most of the entire movie is set in one location, it's surprising that it didn't start to feel tired and over dramatic. There are some silly moments, for sure, and some undeveloped themes, like spirituality versus religion, and some cheesy overwrought moments of irony (Quaid giving a "hopes and dreams" speech near the end after dismissing the very thought in the beginning), but let's face it, not every popcorn flick needs total consistency to work.

For its few shortcomings, this is still a fun adventure and effective human drama. If you're looking for a decent holiday movie and have some bucks to spend, you could do worse than Flight of the Phoenix.

Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe reviews films both at his site and American Digest. Lewis can be reached directly at

Posted by Vanderleun at December 31, 2004 9:33 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Curiousity forces me to ask, what was Elliot's
day job?

Posted by: Steel Turman at December 31, 2004 6:21 PM

Elliott says his job is head designer for a company that builds experimental aircraft. To give away more would ruin an otherwise interesting and explosive scene in the movie.

Posted by: Jeremiah at January 1, 2005 2:55 PM