Written by Edward Burns and Scott Franks (Minority Report) and directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines), Flight of the Phoenix is remarkably loyal to the Robert Aldrich’s 1965 action yarn of the same name, if only in plot. After a multi-culti “bunch of zeroes” are asked to abandon an oil exploration operation, they leave Mongolia aboard a cargo plane operated by Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid, only too happy to show off his ripped physique) and co-pilot AJ (Tyrese Gibbons), only to glide straight into a CGI sandstorm and land somewhere in the Gobi Desert. With little water and even less chance of survival, the group fights against the elements—not to mention their own seesawing emotions—before some creep (an irritating Giovanni Ribisi, whose strange behavior is in service of the same plot twist carried over from the original) suggests they build a new plane from what remains of their old one. The changes to the 1965 B movie are of little consequence (canned peaches instead of pressed dates), and even though a girl is added to the mix, she never gets to play smoochie-face with any of the men or exert her female power, and as such it’s easy to read Miranda Otto’s presence here as a market-researched appeal to the Lord of the Rings demographic. The original Flight of the Phoenix is no classic, but it’s definitely a product of its time: Like 12 Angry Men in the desert, the film allows James Stewart to bark orders to the likes of Ernest Borgnine, Richard Attenborough, and George Kennedy, and from the awesome freeze frames incorporated into the opening title sequence to a plane’s shadow gliding across the desert floor, Aldrich directs the thing with a consistently cool hand. Moore, on the other hand, directs his version not with the interest of his characters in mind, but the MTV generation, with “funny” one-liners (“I think a bee stung you in your stupid ass,” says the funny Mexican), fast-motion interludes, rap stars in crucial roles (for your Razzie consideration: Sticky Fingaz for Worst Supporting Actor), Mummy-like sandstorms that actually looked more realistic in the original, and an entire set piece—featuring an admittedly “cool” shot of a man falling backward in slow-mo after being shot by mysterious (natch) nomads-cum-thieves—set to Massive Attack’s brilliant “Angel.” That said, let’s be thankful that, after Behind Enemy Lines (which featured an “action-packed” set piece involving Owen Wilson and a bunch of bodies killed during genocidal warfare), that Moore never grapples with a single contemporary issue throughout the film. Which, of course, means that Flight of the Phoenix is not only reductive but irrelevant too.
- John Moore
- Scott Frank, Edward Burns
- Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Tony Curran, Kirk Jones, Jacob Vargas, Hugh Laurie, Scott Michael Campbell, Kevork Malikyan, Jared Padalecki, Paul Ditchfield, Martin "Mako" Hindy, Bob Brown
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