Two main reasons to see it: the plane crash and Denzel. It’s all Mr. Washington here, in case you’ve forgotten what a fantastic actor he is after a few years of mediocre actioners. It’s also effectively directed by a live-action returning Robert Zemeckis, after a decade of helming overblown cartoons. He still has a decent touch, even though subtlety has never been his strong suit. And I wish he didn’t stack the deck so much throughout “Flight”. But the man knows how to entertain, I’ll give him that. I skipped all of his animated work, but I can’t say I dislike any of his films with real people in them. And after 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”(ironically his ground-breaking mixture of live-action and animation), I could find a lot of fault in everything he was behind the camera for. The “Back to the Future” sequels, “Death Becomes Her”, “Contact”, “Cast Away”, “What Lies Beneath”—even the sainted “Forrest Gump”. All of them with major issues—and all were either modest or gigantic hits that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Zemeckis is still a master craftsman. My only wish is that his current work had some of the spontaneity of his first decade as a filmmaker. But “Flight” is a nice return for the Oscar winner.
William “Whip” Whitaker(a soon-to-be Oscar nominated role for Mr. Washington)is an airline pilot who also happens to be a fall-down stinking drunk. To wake up before flights he snorts cocaine. And when we meet him he’s half conscious in a hotel bed after a night of little sleep and plentiful sex with one of his flight attendants. Both soon arrive at the airport for a quickie flight from Orlando to Atlanta. Whip, an excellent and experienced pilot despite his hidden addictions, calmly guides the plane through some stormy weather and turbulence in an unorthodox maneuver that gives his young co-pilot some reason for concern. Once at cruising altitude though, everything seems A-OK, so Whip discreetly downs three mini-bottles of vodka with his orange juice and takes a nap. Then something happens to the plane, and it goes into a steep dive. As the pilots(including a jolted awake Whip)fight to control the aircraft, Whip makes another unconventional decision in his effort to save the plane. He rolls it upside down to bring it out of the dive, only bringing it right-side up in time to crash-land it in a field. The result? Whip is a national hero after saving just about everyone on the flight from death. There are injuries, but 96 souls survive. However, 6 people do perish—including two flight attendants. Whip’s hotel lover Katerina Marquez(Nadine Velazquez)is one of them. And he finds this out upon waking from an unconsious state in a hospital bed. Whip has survived without major injuries, but he was also given a mandatory blood test. Will he be considered a hero for very long?
Stuff I could’ve done without? The forced “uproarious” entrances of drug dealer Harling Mays(the great John Goodman)to the strains of pulsating rock classics. Oy. Also, how about a stronger actress than the fetching Kelly Reilly as Nicole—an addict who Whip strikes up a relationship with after meeting her in the hospital. She has no resonance, so that plot device becomes a void. And the revelation that Whip’s surviving(but paralyzed)co-pilot is a religious freak along with his wife(“PRAISE JESUS”). It’s God’s will, you see. Oh, brother, does that scene ever lay it on thick(remember: subtlety and Robert Z have never officially met!). But, as I stated earlier, it’s Denzel’s show and he is spectacular. The hotel room mini-bar struggle is handled beautifully, by both the director and his star. And the special effects work depicting the doomed flight is flawless. It’s just as thrilling and pulse-pounding as it should be—this is Zemeckis’ specialty. “Flight” doesn’t hit all the right notes, and it bangs some of them way too hard. But like most of the work from this director, you should experience it anyway. And welcome back, Denzel. Grade: B