If a critic’s first responsibility is to help the reader enjoy a particular work – and I’m not sure I agree, but I’ve heard that – with Flight that’s an easy one: stay for the first 20 minutes and then leave. You’ll get an awesome nude scene, Denzel ACTING, and a harrowing plane landing, and you’ll leave forever wondering what could have been. I promise, it’ll be better in your mind, for the same reason your teachers always used to tell you to read a book instead of watching TV. “Go on a FLIGHT, on the wings of your own IMAGINATION!”
If you do happen to stay, though, you’ll be treated to an extended infomercial for AA, an important after-school special about the dangers of alcoholism, a very special episode of the Denzel Show.
Flight is your basic example of a good premise in search of a movie. We open on Denzel, morning, in his hotel room full of empty Miller bottles, where he’s been up all night banging a preposterously proportioned, ludicrously hot flight attendant who has just woken up and is walking around stark naked, as hot babes are wont to do (as I know from my extensive research). Nadine Velazquez plays the flight attendant, and it would be impossible to overstate how fantastic her breasts are. They just sort of haunt the background for a while like chubby apparitions, all perky and ready to greet the day, while Denzel smokes a cig and argues with his ex-wife over the cell phone. He’s got family problems, you see, the poor guy. He takes a bump of coke to sober up and they hit the airplane.
Inside the plane, Denzel is completely in his element, though his glib, salty manner frightens and confuses his wet-behind-the-ears whiteboy of a co-pilot. Can you imagine a wackier pairing, by the way? Denzel and a fresh-faced young Caucasian? It’s practically unprecedented. After a hairy takeoff through bad weather, Denzel squirrels away a couple mini vodka bottles, which he secretly pours in his orange juice, chugs, and promptly passes out while the co-pilot handles the autopilot cruising. He wakes up with the plane in an uncontrolled dive, alarms going off, and none of the flaps and the stabilizers and whatnot working. Denzel being Denzel, he refuses to panic, dumping the fuel, inverting the plane, and gliding it to the softest landing he can in a field. His methods are unorthodox, but the crazy thing is, they work!
What you already know from the trailer is that Denzel accomplished a landing that no other pilots can recreate in a simulator, all while sloshed to the gills. We learn that he worked his flap magic with a Blood Alcohol Level of .24 (sidenote, a .24 from three mini vodka bottles and a hangover? f*ck off), which, despite the fact that he landed the plane and saved 96 of the 102 passengers, is going to be a problem for him. Even worse, the dead include his hot flight attendant. See, in hack screenwriter land, girls are mainly useful as corpses, eye candy, and crutches for male protagonists, and she manages to combine the first two.
Denzel meets his crutch at the hospital, a big-breasted (Denzel has a type) wounded dove recovering from a heroin overdose. Played by Kelly Reilly, she’s, get this, a hooker with a heart of gold, AND an aspiring photographer. Ooh, does she also collect vintage records?? She’s probably been super deep her whole life, but no one’s bothered to find out ;-(
The last good sequence of the movie is a monologue delivered by a terminal cancer patient played by James Badge Dale, who shares a cig with Denzel and his magic hooker, glibly mocking the idea of submitting to a higher power. “Why bother praying when God already has a plan for you and whatnot, I prayed for him to take away my cancer and he obviously had a better plan and so forth.”
Refusing to admit that you’re not in control is a theme from the very beginning, and the God-mockery eventually becomes so mean-spirited that you know the movie has nowhere to go but a final act conversion. Get it?? He even crashed the plane through a steeple!
You’d hope that the tension in Flight would come from a generally-good guy with demons having to fight for his reputation in the court of public opinion, or the difficult notion of whether a guy who does a great deed through force of will (landing the plane) even in the midst doing something wildly irresponsible (flying drunk) should be punished. Both of these are non-starters in Flight. Instead we get Denzel battling his addiction. Over. And over. And over. You’d think watching a loser constantly sabotage himself while everyone begs him to stop would make you sympathize with his struggle, but surprisingly it gets kind of dull.
The best part of the whole movie was at the end when Denzel was in the middle of a tearful speech about how he’d been lying to himself his whole life, and just then, someone in the back of the theater kicked over an empty beer bottle. The whole room exploded in laughter.
Flight feels like it was written by an alcoholic who just went into recovery and wants to tell you how great it is. That’s great, but have you ever met one of those people? They’re unbearable. The writer isn’t the only one to blame. As competently directed as the plane-landing/crashing is, Robert Zemeckis’s penchant for cheese is in full effect from the very beginning. The musical choices, my God. “Under the Bridge” and “Sweet Jane,” during the heroin overdose… “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” when he’s pouring his booze down the drain… “With A Little Help from My Friends” when he’s getting a little help from his friends… Come on, man, get it together.