In recent years, cinema audiences have been scared out of flying by terrorists in United 93, the spectre of death in Final Destination, and by motherf***ing snakes on a motherf***ing plane in a film I forget the name of. Then, just when you thought it was safe to go back on a plane, you get Denzel Washington piloting your flight. Not that nice, charming, good Denzel; but the naughty, irresponsible Denzel most recently seen in the underwhelming Safe House.
Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker; introduced to the audience in an opening five minutes which see him wake up in a hotel room with a naked woman surrounded by empty bottles, arguing with his ex-wife on the phone, and snorting a generous line of cocaine. Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain descending into self-destruction. Once aboard his plane, Whitaker gets his head straight with a mixture of vodka and pure oxygen from his emergency mask, which is just as well since moments later the plane suffers a catastrophic failure resulting in a nosedive and imminent death to all on board. Whitaker then pulls off a manoeuvre only a drunk or desperate man would even attempt. Luckily Whip is both, and he manages to save many lives in the resulting spectacular crash landing. The film then concerns itself with the resulting investigation, with our ‘hero’ having to face up to personal demons and the legal ramifications of his actions on the day of the crash.
Washington has received an Oscar nomination for his performance, and I can only imagine it’s for his ability to be the most odious on-screen presence in a film that features Piers Morgan. The main problem with the film is that Whip is so unrepentant, arrogant, and downright unlikeable that long before the end I’d lost interest in whether or not he would gain redemption. The film is also flabby and over-long, with the pacing after the exciting opening 20 minutes making my time in the cinema feel like a long-haul flight without refreshments. Director Robert Zemeckis also seems to have turned up at the editing suite with only his iPod shuffle to choose the film’s soundtrack from. Need to introduce an edgy character? Use Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. Need to show the break-up of a relationship? Use Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. Need to introduce another edgy character? Use Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones (again). This predictability and cliché permeates the entire film.
Aside from an entertaining John Goodman cameo, and the aforementioned plane crash, there’s very little to recommend about a film which collapses under the weight of its own melodrama and religious overtones. As studies of addiction go, it’s also very shallow compared to the likes of Steve McQueen’s Shame which was mysteriously overlooked at last year’s Oscars.