leave a comment --Ken Fox
First-time feature director John Moore decided that it would be a good idea if he and his cast refrained from watching Robert Aldrich's THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965) before attempting a remake, even though the original is widely considered a classic of the genre. Had they bothered, Moore and company might have learned what goes into an exciting action adventure film, and how a ensemble of complex, conflicted characters trumps a posse of Hollywood cliches any day. The action has shifted from Sahara desert to the Gobi and great character actors like Ernest Borgnine and Dan Duryea have been replaced by the likes of rapper Sticky Fingaz, but the basic plot — and it's a good one — remains the same. Cargo-plane pilot Frank "Shut-Down" Towns (Dennis Quaid) and his co-pilot, AJ (Tyrese Gibson), are under orders to transport rig chief Kelly Johnson (Miranda Otto) and her crew out of a recently shuttered oil well in Mongolia's Tangsang Basin. Towns is supposed to fly them all to Beijing, but somewhere over the vast Gobi, their gleaming, twin boom C-119 cargo plane flies head-on into a massive sand storm. Ignoring the warnings of a mysterious passenger named Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi, with a bad blond dye job and an even worse accent), Captain Towns increases altitude — and crash lands smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Towns buries the dead in the high dunes that seem to stretch for miles in every direction, then reviews their desperate situation. They've got enough water, hearts of palm and canned peaches to last a few weeks, but with no chance of walking to safety and little hope of being found, there's little to do except pray. Elliott, however, has a plan: After assessing the considerable damage to the C-119 and taking stock of what tools they've taken from the abandoned rig, he insists that they can build a new plane from the wreckage of the old. And he should know: Geeky Elliott just happens to design aircraft for a living. Then again, he also might be out of his mind. Aldrich's film mourned the passing of yesterday's heroes and their their humane brawn to make way for the cold, calculating brains integral to the technology-heavy future, but Jones's remake mourns nothing, not even the thoughtful adventure stories its soulless ilk have helped bury. We're left admiring nothing but state-of-the-art aerial photography and special effects. The first-act crash is admittedly spectacular and the ending adequately suspenseful, but what comes between is disappointingly routine and completely lacks the kind character complexity that made the original a thrill every step of the way.