There are bound to be very few surprises in a movie that gives away its ending in the title. A remake of a 1965 Jimmy Stewart movie in which the survivors of a desert plane crash build a new makeshift aircraft from the wreckage of the old one, "Flight of the Phoenix" has no surprises at all.
From a guy showing pictures of his wife and kid (uh oh) before the doomed cargo plane even takes off to ferry workers home from a shut-down Gobi Desert oil rig, to the personality clashes as social order disintegrates, to the inspirational speeches that bring them all back together, everything in the story comes pretty much on cue. Even the band of desert marauders who turn up to threaten them arrives just in time to kick off the third act.
Dennis Quaid stars as the cantankerous captain who tries to fly above a huge sandstorm rather than delay his flight, subsequently crash-landing 200 miles off course with his co-pilot (Tyrese Gibson, "Baby Boy"), the rig's project leader and token female (Miranda Otto, "Lord of the Rings"), the corporate stooge who shut her down (Hugh Laurie, Fox TV's "House"), and a gritty cultural cross-section of rig workers.
Their only hope is that the one passenger who wasn't supposed to be there, a nasally nerd (Giovanni Ribisi) who happens to design airplanes -- and happened to be "backpacking" through the remote, almost impassibly inhospitable area for no explored reason -- can engineer an air-worthy vessel, using the parts and equipment on hand, before their food and water run out.
Director John Moore ("Behind Enemy Lines") conspicuously skips over important details (how does this crew get its improvised plane out of the ditch where they build it?), fails to establish the terrain (aerial shots show a vast field of dunes, yet some scenes take place in rocky valleys) and has his characters inexplicably spend their down time outside in the blazing sun. There's never any real sense of peril because the entire film feels prefabricated. When Quaid has only five chances to start the new plane's engine, how many tries do you think it will take?
The only unpredictable element is Ribisi's character, who is coldly practical (to the point of arguing that an injured man should be allowed to die sooner rather than later to conserve supplies), but becomes egomaniacal upon realizing that "everyone here is dispensable except me."
Ribisi's performance is somewhat affected -- as if he's basing the engineer's entire personality on his nasal twang -- but if it weren't for him there would be little here to hold one's interest after the original plane goes through its cinematic barrel rolls, its fuselage-chopping lost propeller and its sand-blasting belly landing during the computer-generated opening storm.
So while the do-it-themselves plane of the title does eventually get off the ground, the movie doesn't really follow suit.
Run time: 113 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th December 2004
Box Office USA: $20.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $21M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Davis Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 30%
Fresh: 35 Rotten: 81
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: John Moore
Starring: Dennis Quaid as Frank Towns, Tyrese Gibson as A.J., Giovanni Ribisi as Elliott, Miranda Otto as Kelly, Hugh Laurie as Ian, Jared Padalecki as John Davis, Tony Curran as Alex Rodney, Kirk Jones as Jeremy, Jacob Vargas as Sammi, Scott Michael Campbell as James Liddle, Kevork Malikyan as Rady, Paul Ditchfield as Dr. Gerber, Martin Hindy as Newman, Bob Brown as Kyle, Anthony Wong as Lead Smuggler, Sticky Fingaz as Jeremy (as Kirk Jones)
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