Flight of the Phoenix (2004)
Directed by John Moore

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * ½

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After an oil drilling operation in the Gobi Desert is shut down, Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid), the pilot of an old cargo plane, arrives to pick up the workers. His aircraft, however, crashes in the middle of the desert and, without hope of rescue, the stranded survivors have to figure out a way to save themselves. Fortunately, Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), a mysterious man who had wandered into the camp where the drilling crew had worked and who designs airplanes for a living, reveals that he knows how to repair Frank's damaged craft so that the whole group can fly to safety.

There is very little that I can say about John Moore's Flight of the Phoenix. It is an entirely formulaic, forgettable film.

The story the director tells is utterly predictable and every person who appears in it is more of a caricature than an individual. Frank is a dour pessimist, though he is also decent and, ultimately, heroic. Kelly (Miranda Otto), the head of the crew being shipped out, is feisty and optimistic. Ian (Hugh Laurie), the corporate executive responsible for shutting down the former's operation, is arrogant and self-centered. Elliott is a strident, annoying creature. Of course, in the end, everyone pulls together, and those who have been unpleasant or intransigent learn how they had been wrong to act in such ways. Just to make things worse, there is not a character who is not distinctively and tritely quirky, and, despite the changes several persons undergo, there is not one of the protagonists who is developed in more than a perfunctory way.

Because the characters are so uninteresting, it is doubtful that any of their crises will have much or any impact on the moviegoer. What is more, their various adventures, while often reasonably exciting, are largely rehashed from other films. The sequence depicting the plane crash is very similar to that in Alive, and several of the heroes' stand off with a group of bandits could have been lifted from any one of numerous Westerns. As uninspired as these portions of the film are, they are, nonetheless, unlikely to bore the viewer.

Lastly, I should add that while I am no great admirer of realism in cinema, the film's special effects are frequently so shoddy that their falsity is actually distracting. On many occasions, Flight of the Phoenix is attractive, but when it fails to impress, it can fail miserably.

At the very least, Flight of the Phoenix is not so bad that it is unwatchable. In fact, it probably will not make much of any impression on the viewer.

Review by Keith Allen

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