Monday, November 26, 2012
Director Robert Zemeckis makes his first live action feature film since CAST AWAY, after an artistically disastrous foray into motion-capture animation, with mixed results. We first meet pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) in a hotel room with Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), one of his flight attendants, the morning after a nightlong bender and only hours before he will captain (and she crew) a commercial jet to Atlanta. There is a mechanical failure in flight and Whip must perform a daring maneuver, to the abject horror of co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), but manages to crash the disabled plane in a field with only six souls lost (including Katerina). The media hail him as a hero. When Whip regains consciousness in the hospital, however, he learns from pilots’ union rep Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) and attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) that he (Whip) is being investigated for flying under the influence. Meanwhile, on the ground in Atlanta, Nicole (Kelly Reilly) has bought a high-powered narcotic and returned to her shabby apartment only to overdose on the drug. She and Whip meet cute in a hospital stairwell and share an illicit smoke. Before long the two addicts seek shelter and solace with each other. As Whip spirals into drunkenness, Nicole tries to guide him to an AA meeting while Anderson and Lang struggle to keep him sober for the federal crash investigation. John Gatins’ script has lofty ambitions but succumbs about thirty minutes in to the faulty mechanics of familiarity and narrative convenience. Washington gives a towering performance, but it never soars due to the clumsy, unconvincing character arc. Greenwood and Cheadle do admirably well with underwritten roles, as does Geraghty. Melissa Leo is completely wasted as Ellen Block, the chief federal investigator, and John Goodman, as Whip’s dealer Harlan Mays, is ill served in two scenes played for queasy laughs. After reaching his zenith with the charming time travel comedy BACK TO THE FUTURE, Zemeckis lost his interest in character and became obsessed with technology. Here he has made a technical marvel with no soul.