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Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

This is a big-budget, action-packed spectacle intended to remind audiences that its lead actor is a chiseled hero who looks extra-pretty when he’s glistening with sweat and scowling.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama

Director: John Moore

Actors: Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Tyrese Gibson, Miranda Otto, Kirk Jones, Tony Curran, Hugh Laurie, Jacob Vargas, Scott Michael Campbell, Kevork Malikyan

Year: 2004

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Country: USA

Phoenix is something of an ambitious but overblown star vehicle for Dennis Quaid that’s filled to overflowing with gritted teeth (with or without the requisite gnashing), rippling muscles, scenery chewing and dialogue so cheesy that one wonders if the filmmakers actually intended it to be tongue-in-cheek.

A remake of the 1965 Jimmy Stewart film, The Flight of the Phoenix, this incarnation (also based on the novel by Elleston Trevor) drops the “The” and moves its central locale from the Sahara to the Gobi Desert. Quaid is gruff pilot Frank Towns, who’s sent into the middle of nowhere with his co-pilot, A.J. (Tyrese Gibson), to transport the rag-tag crew of a failed oil-digging expedition. Among them are a whole roster of stock characters, including a plucky lass (Miranda Otto), a stuffy suit (Hugh Laurie) and a freaky weirdo named Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), whom no one seems to really know. But the trip back to civilization hits a major snag in the form of a sandstorm so massive in scope and CGI that I half expected The Mummy’s Imhotep to emerge from the dust. The plane goes down in a horrific crash (that, honestly, no one could have realistically survived) and the group is left stranded in the desert with no hope of rescue. That’s when Elliott offers a possible solution: make a brand new plane out of the remains of the old one! Their efforts, and the repeated setbacks, make up the remainder of the film.

The main problem with buying into this film is the fact that a little TV show called Lost popped up a few months ago and does this whole surviving-a-plane-crash thing much, MUCH better. Better characters, better setting, better story arcs, better storytelling. Phoenix is so comparatively unrealistic that it’s laughable. Suspension of disbelief is paramount in order to even halfway enjoy this movie, and any sort of reasoning must be completely discarded in order to sit through the hysterically far-fetched final few minutes. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but suffice it to say there’s no way ANY of those people would have survived what transpires.

Unfortunately, much of the fromage factor rests with Dennis Quaid, who tries so very hard to prove he’s still young enough to pull off shirtless scenes in the hot sun. We get it, Dennis. You work out. But the repeated attempts at smoldering intensity are not enough to carry the film. Don’t even get me started on all the screaming. (Note: just because you say the lines really loudly, doesn’t mean you’re “acting.”) I felt bad for Miranda Otto and Hugh Laurie, who are stuck with essentially thankless roles in a sub-par Hollywood movie. And Giovanni Ribisi, who’s actually quite entertaining here, is so over-the-top that it’s like he dropped in from another film altogether. He’s like a cartoon, with his helium voice, nebbish glasses and quietly simmering psychosis. Were it not for him and the laughs his bizarre character elicits, I think Phoenix might have been completely unenjoyable.

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