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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

'Flight of the Phoenix' never quite gets off the ground

By Tom Long
The Detroit News


A plane crashes in the remote desert and the survivors decide to rebuild it and fly to safety. Decent premise, terrible execution and a laughable villain played by Ribisi. Simple fact: Turkeys can't fly. Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto star for director John Moore. 20th Century Fox, 112 minutes.

Following a downward trajectory all the way, "The Flight of the Phoenix" starts off with a spectacular airplane crash and then continues crashing as a film. Despite a basic premise that's ripe with promise, the film leaps way over the top with a key performance while also succumbing to some silly cliches, thus plunging straight to the bottom.

Dennis Quaid stars as Frank Towns, pilot of a plane that's carrying the members of a failed oil expedition in Mongolia back home. No sooner is the plane up, up and away than it encounters a massive sandstorm. Too stubborn to turn back, Towns ends up wrecking the plane but saving most of the passengers when he crashes in the middle of nowhere.

The plane's radio is destroyed, the sun is beating down, civilization is far out of reach and water is limited. The survivors are a mixed lot and tensions are understandably high. Sounds like a good premise for a TV show.

Maybe something called "Lost."

It's also a good premise for a movie, especially when a mysterious passenger suggests that he can show them how to rebuild the plane so they can fly to safety.

OK, great, now let's build a movie around that. And build is precisely what director John Moore does, in very visible and unsubtle terms. He establishes odd buddies and carefully gives each character a minimal allotted slice of personality. The script has Towns clinging to his stubbornness for a while until "A Big Speech" changes his mind and it also offers an encounter with "Unexpected Dangers."

There's also a woman on board, played by beautiful Miranda Otto, one of the lovely princesses in "The Lord of the Rings." But don't get the wrong idea, she's just one of the guys and no one seems to notice she could easily play a lovely princess in a movie. She's there for that understated sexual tension thing.

In other words, it's all stuff we've seen before, and it looks like stuff we've seen before.

Except for the key character of Elliott, played by a bleached Giovanni Ribisi. We haven't seen Elliott before because he never should have been seen. He is the mysterious guy who somehow hitches a ride on the plane and then turns out to be an airplane designer.

In a daring show of affectation the usually fine Ribisi plays Elliott as some effeminate Nazi villain from a 1940s B movie. Elliott brings some laugh-aloud moments to "The Flight of the Phoenix." Unfortunately, the movie is not a comedy and there seems to be some expectation that you'll take this character seriously and even (gulp) learn to admire him. You bet.

Otherwise, it's pretty easy to guess what's going to happen, and happen it does, although the addition of hordes of Mongolian bad guys chasing the plane as it takes off again offers an unintended opportunity for laughter.

Unfortunately, neither Elliott nor the hordes are so funny you should waste money or time on "The Flight of the Phoenix." This bird does not rise from the ashes. Turkeys can't do that.

Rated PG-13 for some language, action and violence.