Release Date:  December 17, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for some language, action and violence)
Genre:   Action/Adventure
Run Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Director:    John Moore
Actors:    Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Tyrese Gibbons, Miranda Otto, Tony Curran, Sticky Fingaz, Jacob Vargaz, Hugh Laurie, Scott Michael Campbell,

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the theatres, we get another disaster flick.  By disaster, I am not referring to Los Angeles falling into the ocean, monsters attacking New York, or people crashing their plane in the desert, as they actually do in this film.  I mean disaster – as in the movie itself.  Because, unlike the mythological Phoenix that gives the film its name, there’s no resurrecting this bird.

Dennis Quaid plays smug Captain Frank Towns, who flies out to foreign-based oil rigs and shuts them down, then pulls out the workers on behalf of the big corporation they all work for.  To Towns and his engineer/co-pilot, AJ (Tyrese Gibbons), they’re just “a bunch of zeroes” going out “with the trash,” and it shows in their smarty-pants attitude.  But this time, as Towns and AJ attempt to fly out of Mongolia, they encounter a sandstorm and crash into the Gobi Desert.

It’s the hottest season of the year and they’re hundreds of miles off course, with little hope for rescue.  But when a drifter named Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi) suggests they build a new plane out of the wreckage, Towns has no interest.  He’d rather wait it out – or die waiting.  But after one crew member goes missing and another takes off, Towns agrees to try.  They’re almost out of water, anyway.

Wow.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film this bad – maybe a whole two weeks – so this one really took me by surprise.  Apparently faithful to the 1965 original, which boasted great actors like James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Attenborough, this may be the only thing this film has going for it – and that includes Quaid’s performance.  Quaid is consistently top notch (and does a great job in the upcoming film, “In Good Company”), but he’s definitely off-kilter here.  He’s far better than the rest of the cast, but that’s not saying much.

Tyrese, a former male model (“Baby Boy”), does a respectable job, as does the lone female, Mirando Otto (“The Lord of the Rings” series) and Hugh Laurie.  But everyone else, from Jacob Vargas, as the token Latino, to Tony Curran, as the outback cool dude, to rapper Sticky Fingaz – yes, that’s his name, and we won’t try and guess where that came from – is terrible.  I have no idea what Ribisi was doing, with his pseudo-psychotic weirdness and blond hair.  I kept waiting for him to curl up his fingers and say, “Mwa-ha-ha!”

It doesn’t help that all the characters are clichés.  Cue the pilot and lone female that spar but really like each other.  Cue the black sidekick; the Mexican cook; the rich guy and the poor guy, who hate each other; and, Lord help us, the guy who looks at the photos of his wife and kids, before the plane takes off.  Awwwwwww!

We already know the whole plot, but if you’re feeling a little sleepy, let me give you a clue.  Flight.  Of.  The.  Phoenix.  ‘Nuff said?  Okay, so there are a few twists, designed to increase tension – like the band of nomads that hang out, waiting for … something, ‘not sure what – but which will actually have you shaking your head, because they’re so contrived.  Too bad, because this could have been used to great effect.  Don’t miss the scene where a hundred or so appear on the horizon – it may be your only good laugh in the film.  Nah – come to think of it, probably not.  

The dialogue is some of the worst I’ve ever heard.  When we aren’t subjected to sitcom insults like, “I think a bee stung you in your stupid a–!” we get really gripping exchanges, like “How’s it going up there?”  “What?”  “I said, ‘How’s it going up there?’”  “Oh!  Fine!”  Or how about the one where a character stands up and says, “We’re not garbage!  We’re people!”  Could somebody please cue the “We Are the World?” music?  No, wait – we already have plenty of that, in montages that boast really original songs like Outkast’s “Hey, ya!”  I’m so excited!

It’s almost as if scriptwriter Scott Frank (“Get Shorty,” “Minority Report”), who should know better, realized how bad it is, so he stuck in a few speeches designed to impart wisdom (as if we need more of that from Hollywood).  Trying to convince Towns to make the plane, a character gives what is dubbed the “hopes and dreams speech” by Towns, who later jokes about it with Kelly (I guess he forgot she wasn’t around to hear it). 

“Most people spend their whole lives hanging onto hopes and dreams that will never happen,” he says.  “Why take that away from them?”  Not content to leave unoriginal alone, he adds, “A man needs one thing in life – someone to love.  If you can’t give him that, give him something to hope for.  And if you can’t give him that, just give him something to do.”  I tell you, this guy might be on Oprah next week.  Stay tuned.

Then we have some P.C. preaching by the – you guessed it – token Muslim prophet, who sums up the film’s all-important message.  After making fun of a character (the “dumb” Mexican, of course) who prays before his meal, and telling a joke that nullifies his faith-filled statement that God had saved their lives, the wise man offers this great insight: “Spirituality is not religion,” he says.  “Religion divides people.  Giving them something to believe in unites them.”

Yeah, Jihad always has that affect on me, too.

I don’t know what director John Moore is doing (“Enemy at the Gates” was a stellar film), but something’s seriously remiss.  The CGI sandstorm isn’t believable, we never see anyone getting sick from the heat or constant diet of canned peaches, and no one ever gets sunburned!  

Will this year never end?
 
AUDIENCE:  Adults only.

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Mild.   Several characters smoke cigarettes.
  • Language/Profanity:  Heavy.  About 35 obscenities (including one f---) and about half a dozen profanities.     
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Mild – None.  A male and female character are attracted to one another and smile, but nothing more.
  • Violence:  Heavy.  Very violent plane crash in which several people are seriously injured or killed and/or fall from plane to their death (one is seen falling); various depictions of bloody wounds; various depictions of dead bodies – one riddled with bullets, another whose skin was ripped off by desert winds; two point-blank shootings which kill men; men argue and fight.