Flight marks director Robert Zemeckis’ first foray (and second ever) into the R-rated landscape since 1980’s hilarious and underrated Used Cars. Just to cover all the bases, we have full frontal nudity, binge drinking, and hard drug use before the film’s doomed plane even takes off. Zemeckis is trying to make a drama for adults about adult problems, but Flight is so scattershot that it never settles into a rhythm after the stunning and horrifying plane crash that sets a series of events in motion. John Gatins’ screenplay contains an enthralling first act before settling into a by-the-books and largely uninteresting final ninety minutes.
Denzel Washington stars as William “Whip” Whitaker, a commercial pilot with a lot of bad habits. He’s an alcoholic, druggie, and finds himself in bed with the flight attendants. He’s divorced and his alcoholism has alienated him from his only son. During a routine one hour commute, tragedy strikes the flight that Whip is piloting. Using crazy piloting maneuvers that defy description, Whip manages to crash land the plane in an empty field, saving 96 of the 102 souls on board. He’s hailed a hero as he recovers in the hospital, but his fortune is about to change as lawyers and toxicology reports surface.
Discussions about deeper topics, such as the role of God in the crash, are played up for laughs (at least, that’s how it comes across) and never make an impact. There’s a fantastic scene early on involving a cancer patient at Whip’s hospital and his new outlook on life with a terminal illness, but none of these ideas are built upon. Instead we wallow with Whip in his alcoholism all the way to an uneventful conclusion that could have been reached thirty minutes and many bottles of Ketel One earlier. None of it is Washington’s fault, as he is as effective as ever in a role that deserved a better, more focused central story. The film’s insistence upon comic relief, mainly from John Goodman, looking like he just emerged from a Big Lebowski reunion bender, is uneven and borderline tasteless considering its supposed serious treatment of a serious illness. You can’t have it both ways, especially with the preachy movie-of-the-week conclusion. Flight is amazing while it’s airborne, but much less so on the ground.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 138 Minutes
Rating: R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.
Theatrical Release: November 2, 2012
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: John Gatins
Cast: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Kelly Reilly