Flight Review
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There’s just nothing like a good Denzel Washington thriller. After all, whether the Oscar-winning tough guy is hunting down bad guys or trying to stop a speeding train, he’s just plain fun to watch. But if you’re expecting the usual high-energy action and suspense from Washington’s latest, Flight, you’re in for one dull and dreary surprise.

Washington stars as hard-partying airline captain William “Whip” Whitaker. Despite a pretty serious substance abuse problem, he’s still the best there is—so when his morning flight from Orlando to Atlanta faces severe turbulence and mechanical failures, he somehow manages to land the plane with minimal casualties.

While the news reports talk of the pilot’s heroism, though, the investigators discover some disturbing information—most notably Whitaker’s blood alcohol level. And as lawyers and union reps fight to get him cleared of any suspicion, Whitaker hides out at his dad’s old farm house and battles his addictions.

In the opening scenes, director Robert Zemeckis seems to be setting Flight up as some kind of edgy comedic thriller. He introduces Washington’s character as a rather amiable addict—a fun-loving guy who somehow manages to fly a plane while guzzling screwdrivers. Despite the dangerous situation, there are so many humorous moments that it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Even after the thrilling crash scene, Whitaker is visited by his old pal, Harling (John Goodman), a loud-mouthed old hippie who smuggles booze and porn into the hospital.

But then the movie takes a sharp turn into dark, heavy drama. Whitaker hooks up with a fellow addict (played by Kelly Reilly) as he begins a long, drawn-out downward spiral. And—despite the occasional appearance of a handful of wacky, southern-fried characters—what was once a strangely madcap thriller about a remarkably high-functioning addict suddenly turns into an oppressively grim drama about the damage that addiction leaves in its wake.

As a comedic thriller, Flight could have been an entertaining (and exciting) film. As a serious, award-season drama, it may have been compelling. But Flight just doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be—and that makes it horribly uncomfortable to watch. Just when you’re getting into Whitaker’s madcap adventures, that sudden turnaround feels like a slap in the face. Zemeckis seems to encourage his audience to laugh at Whitaker’s behavior, only to turn around and scold them for finding amusement in something as serious as drug and alcohol addiction.

At times, the story seems to suggest that there’s something bigger at play here—a conspiracy, perhaps, or even the intervention of a higher power. But, in the end, it’s not all that interesting. Granted, Washington handles the film’s mood swings remarkably well, but if you’re eager to see another Denzel Washington nail-biter, it’s probably best if you give up on Flight after the first half-hour.

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