Recent surveys have shown that many a moviegoer actually like to know what is going to happen in a film prior to viewing it. These results have prompted overly spoiler-ridden trailers that all but qualify as viewing the film in its entirety. Since Flight Of The Phoenix is not only spoiled in its title but also in its trailer, I won’t tread as carefully on plot details as I usually do.
The original Flight Of The Phoenix was released in 1965 and has since gone on to be somewhat of a classic, at least classic enough to be remade by Hollywood nearly forty years later. The result is entertaining, but brainless, popcorn fun.
The setup is so simple that it borderlines on genius. A group of oil company workers in Mongolia are picked up by confident pilot Frank Towns (Quaid) to go home. On the flight home the plane encounters the mother of all sandstorms and ends up crash-landing somewhere in the Gobi Desert. It’s summer, it’s hot, and there are limited food and water supplies. No good can come from this.
The group is an assorted lot. There’s Frank, his co-pilot A.J. (Tyrese), the very sketchy Elliot (Ribisi), resourceful Kelly (Otto), hotshot Jeremy (Fingaz), Sammi (Jacob Vargas), golfer/priss Ian (Hugh Laurie), loose cannon Liddle (Scott Michael Campbell), optimist Rady (Kevork Malikyan), and Davis (Jared Padalecki).
But is the situation so hopeless? Not according to Elliott, who is an airplane designer himself. He believes that a new plane can be constructed from the unharmed parts of the old plane and that the group can fly themselves out of the predicament. The new aircraft will be nicknamed the “Phoenix,” based upon the old legend of the phoenix rising from its own ashes.
Working by night, the group begins constructing the new aircraft while at the same time trying to conserve as much water and food as they can (peaches are the main delicacy). Trouble abounds, however, as the group must overcome further sandstorms, electrical storms, and desert smugglers to stand a chance of escaping.
This is a fun film, but there are so many details that are just never attended to. The one that bothered me the most was how, after working day after day in the blazing sun of the Gobi Desert, none of the characters appear sunburned or tanned in the slightest. I would have been turned to dust after about two days! And why do the nomads decide to attack only when the Phoenix begins running? This is far too convenient for plot reasons. Ultimately, it’s probably a moot point because this is not a film that ever intended to deal with realistic details.
Another problem arises with the big “twist” that has been advertised. I won’t be so shallow as to give it away, but let’s just say that not only is it disappointing and stupid, but it’s irrelevant.
The special effects are good for the most part, with the crash sequence at the beginning of the film being the crown jewel. As someone who is all but completely mortified of flying, this is a sequence that gave me the creeps. There is a fair amount of action in this film (especially considering the solitary setting), and it’s all done satisfactorily.
The performances are solid and have the right amount of campiness. Dennis Quaid pulls several riffs from his performance in The Day After Tomorrow, but nonetheless emerges as a strong leader. Rappers Tyrese and Sticky Fingaz represent the most interesting aspect of the casting, and provide some nice comic relief. Giovanni Ribisi steals the show as the dorky Elliott. He is the one man who cannot die if the group stands any chance of surviving. Obviously some of these characters are disposable for the sake of the story, but I’ll let you discover who makes it and who doesn’t.
All in all Flight Of The Phoenix is a popcorn movie for the winter film season. Was the original just screaming to be remade? Not at all, but for those looking for some effective, mindless entertainment while escaping the cold, this will do. Consider this a haphazard recommendation for said crowd.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some language, action and violence.
Theatrical Release: December 17, 2004
Directed by: John Moore
Written by: Scott Frank & Edward Burns. Based upon the 1965 screenplay by Lukas Heller.
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Tyrese, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Tony Curran, Sticky Fingaz