FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX

PG-13
Reviews

Adapted from a best-selling novel, the 1965 version of The Flight of the Phoenix was a state-of-the-art Hollywood product whose special effects and all-star cast prefigured an entire cycle of disaster movies. The remake is a good example of how the industry's priorities have shifted. Special effects have progressed to a remarkable degree, while storytelling skills have declined at a perilous rate.

The basic outline of the plot remains the same. An airplane crashes in the desert, stranding its crew and passengers with no radio and few supplies. The nearest help is hundreds of miles away, and the plane was so off-course that rescue seems unlikely. Captain Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) advocates rationing water and waiting for the inevitable. He regards his passengers-oil-rig workers returning home from a failed test well-as losers.

Kelly (Miranda Otto), the chief roustabout of the rig crew, isn't so ready to give up. When Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi) offers a plan to escape, she is eager to join. An aircraft designer, Elliott thinks they can salvage enough from the wreckage of the twin-boom C-119 cargo plane to fashion an entirely new single-engine plane.

Towns is reluctant to take part, but Kelly's optimism, and the presence of murderous brigands nearby, help change his mind. Massive storms hinder their work. Another drawback is Elliott's autocratic manner. Will Towns be able to shake his cynicism long enough to see the project through and fly the survivors to safety?

The original film reveled in the nuts-and-bolts process of fashioning a plane from the bits and pieces of wreckage. It also treated the characters as a sort of test of United Nations idealism, with the stoic American pilot James Stewart and English navigator Richard Attenborough forced to adapt to the neo-Nazi tactics of German engineer Hardy Kruger in order to survive.

The remake abandons almost all of the rebuilding material, focusing instead on high-tech depictions of electrical storms that provide a lot of noise and bustle without helping the plot. Similarly, the script loses interest in the personalities of survivors, whose ethnic backgrounds function as the equivalent of nametags. Quaid does little more than bellow or sulk, although lines like "We're not garbage, we're human!" could not have provided much inspiration. As an alternative, Ribisi relentlessly hams up his character's eccentricities.

John Moore directs with the same misplaced fervor he brought to the gung-ho Behind Enemy Lines, fashioning emotional outbursts that feel entirely false, and somehow finding the time to throw in a music-video for Outkast's "Hey Ya." Flight of the Phoenix will be entertaining enough to those with short memories; others will see in the film further proof of Hollywood's inexorable decline from greatness.