Sunday, December 02, 2012

Aborted Flight

Save your money and your time. Flight aborts on takeoff. It never reaches cruising altitude. Its engines sputter and flame out. Skip this one and catch a different flight.

When the airplane piloted by drunk, high-on-cocaine Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) takes off, the passengers are told that the flight will take just under an hour. Perhaps if the movie had been edited down to one hour, it might have been bearable. As it is, the official running time of two hours and 18 minutes can’t possibly be correct. The movie seemed to go on forever — or at least until it ends abruptly with an anticlimax.

As we know from the trailers, their flight will be much shorter than that. Wisely, the trailers focused on the scenes of the plane flying upside down just above the ground and then crashing in a field. That’s the most entertaining part of the movie. No, it’s the only entertaining part. If the movie had ended at that point, with everyone aboard dying in the crash, it would have been no more unsatisfying than the actual ending and slightly less disappointing.

Don’t be fooled by that trailer. This isn’t a picture about airplanes or pilots. It’s a story about alcoholism, and it’s no Days of Wine and Roses. Unlike that classic movie, it doesn’t even have a good theme song.

Whip Whitaker drinks heavily and constantly, snorts cocaine, smokes feverishly, denies that he has a problem, and repeats the process over and over and over … There is no subtlety to the story. The writing is inferior, rising occasionally to pedestrian. With the exception of Don Cheadle’s excellent depiction of a slimy lawyer, the acting is barely adequate. Denzel Washington, normally such a fine and riveting actor, is severely out of place here. His understated style is exactly wrong for the character. He should be flamboyant and larger than life until his moment of truth. Instead, he’s a loser from the beginning — a boring, uninteresting, and unpleasant loser.

Making matters worse, after the crash scene, the movie starts meandering down a side road of preaching and moralizing and vague religious references. None of this is made clear and unambiguous. The writers seem to lack the courage to take a position either way. Rather, they throw lots of ingredients into the mix as though they hope that everyone in the audience — atheist, theist, supporter of AA, opponent of AA — will take from it what they want and will therefore like the movie. I suspect that I’m not alone in being offended by such spinelessness.

I said that the crash is the only entertaining part of the movie. That’s not quite true. There’s also the naked girl at the very beginning, before the crash. But she’s not onscreen for long. Not naked, anyway. If only we got to see that actress naked as often as we are forced to see Whip drinking. That might have helped.

The only other element that makes the movie even moderately interesting is John Goodman fighting valiantly to provide comic relief.

However, I was distracted by Goodman’s heavy breathing. I couldn’t help wondering how many more movies he’ll live to make. It’s ironic that in a movie about alcohol and drug addiction, the most memorable actor in it is a barely walking symbol of the dangers of food addiction — as were so many of the people in the audience with us and in the restaurant we went to before the movie. Instead of Flight, what America needs is a movie titled The Days of Lard and Heart Failure.

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