Comfortable and Furious

Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

You know what? Flight of the Phoenix isn’t half bad. [Editor’s Note: The original is 1000x better] And at 53% good, well, I’m not sorry I watched it. Which is becoming a rarer and rarer statement for me to make these days. Granted, any hopes I might have for a “good” film were dashed against the rocks in the desert for the film’s first fifteen minutes. From the end of the credits until the plane crashes, director John Moore managed to combine all the worst elements from Con Air with the pointless macho-bluster of Armageddon and I was going, “Oh man… how could those piles of filth influence anybody?”

But then the plane crashes and suddenly we have almost a direct rip off of Pitch Black. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “but it’s a rip off! Why are you giving it a pass?” As Woody Allen said, “Don’t steal. But if you do, steal from the best.” Am I saying Pitch Black is the best? No way. It’s good… I just painted myself into a corner grammatically. Fancy that.

Dennis Quaid stars as Captain Frank Towns, a man who seems to relish his rather stupid nickname of “Shut ‘Em Down Towns.” How co-star Miranda Otto was able to call him that with a straight face is anybody’s guess. He works for an oil company and when their test sites fail to produce any oil, Towns and his co-pilot AJ (Tyrese) swoop in, pack ’em up and send ’em home. I promise not to use “’em” any more in this review. The current failed drill is taking place in Outer Mongolia deep in the heart of the great Gobi desert.

Boarding the plane, and pissing and moaning like rotten children, is a group of “leather necks” that seem to average about twenty-seven-years old in age; that number being raised up from twenty-five by corporate butt-boy Ian (Hugh Laurie of House, M.D. fame). Also notable among the cast is the inclusion of Sticky Fingaz of Onyx fame. Just before the plane takes off, one more passenger–a mystery passenger–appears. Why, it’s Giovanni Ribisi! And, instead of doing his usual lovable retard shtick, here he comes across as some sort of spooky intellectual with a pole up his anus.

After five minutes of flight-time, a computer-generated storm of biblical proportions appears out of nowhere and the plane crashes. I need to mention that the actual crash sequence was pretty damn cool. Especially when one of the plane’s propellers breaks loose and tears-ass into the fuselage. More folks should have died (just two perished) but it was still fun to watch. A good crash-landing, too. Similar to many respects to the finale of Executive Decision, only without all the other planes getting their asses munched. OK, you got me. I’m a little drunk. But come on, “asses munched” is a good phrase. Now a dozen of them (or however many) are stuck in the veritable middle of nowhere with enough food and water for thirty days. And it’s July, so it’s even hotter than normal. “OK Jonny,” I hear you saying, “enough. Why is this movie good?” And yeah, Ed Burns (yes, that Ed Burns) co-wrote it, but please bear with me.

Flight of the Phoenix could have easily continued to veer off course at this point and disintegrated into your typical disaster flick where there is one dude working against everyone else’s best interests. Mistrust abounds. The desert will kill them if they don’t kill themselves first. You know, like when Milhouse gets caught stealing food in the Lord of the Flies episode. Instead, something wonderful happens–not immediately mind you, there had to be several Joseph Campbell-style “refusals of the call” by Quaid–the survivors of the crash decide to be logical. I found it to be a slap across the face. When the hell are movies ever logical? Characters using reason and science to help them with their plight? What happened to charging in head first and then cursing God when hope fails, screaming, “How many more lives??!?” I was wowed.

The initial plan is to hang tight, do nothing, and wait for help to arrive. But, like, that would be pretty dull to watch, so Ribisi suddenly announces that he’s an aircraft designer and they can take parts from the wrecked plane and build a new, smaller plane. “I heard he carved it out of a bigger spoon.” Yes, I very much enjoy relating everything back to the Simpsons. It eases the pain of the certain knowledge that one day I’ll die. Moving along; Captain Towns initially balks at the idea, but after some shenanigans take place (weakest part of the film minus the beginning) he relents and decides that building a new plane is the way to go. Lucky for them, they have all the drilling equipment packed up and on board the plane. All they got to do is unload it, not sweat too much, and get to work. If you build it, you will go, etc. There was even a Bruckheimer inspired moment of levity where somebody turned on a radio and they danced and goofed as they worked. Actually, I should admit that I found the soundtrack to be quite good. Another rarity.

I must admit that it was pretty enjoyable to watch the team come together. The workers stopped hating the management, the management realized what a pretentious self-important bag of shit he is and they built the damn plane. Sure, there were explosions and lightning attacks and murderous nomads to contend with, but these people had heart. They were going to get the job done, desert be damned. The biggest obstacle to their success–or so it seemed–was oddball Giovanni who was in desperate need of constant reassurance that yes, he was the most important member of the team.

House M.D. nearly shoots him when it turns out that, oh yeah, he designs model planes, not real ones. But as Ribisi arrogantly points out, the design principles are the same. Logic triumphs over emotion, which was good. Come to think of it, like the beginning, the ending was pretty silly. They get the plane built and instead of just a harrowing takeoff over a cliff (duh), it becomes a harrowing takeoff over a cliff with ten dozen crazed gun toting Chinese nomads in hot pursuit. Still, I was happy for them when the Phoenix took flight and they made out of the desert safely. I was especially happy when I watched the deleted scenes and learned that somebody wisely cut up the final scene and removed the wheelie-popping motorcycles and their AK-47 shooting drivers. Who’s going to buy that?

Special Ruthless Ratings:

  • Have you seen the original: No. But I think I’d like to, as it sounds more cerebral. Plus, how can I resist Ernest Borgnine?
  • There was one female and no one tried to hump her: Nope. I thought about that… If they really thought they were going to die, wouldn’t at least Sticky Fingaz be leading a train? But, like I said, at one point, logic took over.
  • You actually liked the soundtrack: Yeah, the songs were good. Though, starting a movie off with a Johnny Cash ditty is becoming a little stale.
  • So, you’re saying you liked Ribisi: Yep. He was defiantly the most interesting character.
  • Come on man: Dude, he shot that one nomad dude in the head, which was the smart and prudent thing to do. He didn’t even lisp or nothing.
  • Wow, you are drunk: I’m telling you, he was good.
  • Put the bottle down, son. And get some help: Shut up.
  • Anything else: In the right hands, this could have been a fantastic movie. Especially if they would have dispensed with the Action/Adventure tomfoolery and concentrated on the psychology of it all.

Review Posted: 4.27.05