FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX sputters, stalls, crashes and burns as the worst modern remake of an adventure classic this airsick passenger has ever required a barf bag for. Howlingly bad, it’s even worse than the twin 2016 kamikaze missions that piloted disasters The Magnificent Seven and Ben-Hur.
John Moore directed, with a touch on the controls as light as a loaded B-52. He was also responsible for the reviled Max Payne, the risible Behind Enemy Lines and another crud remake, The Omen, whose title should have served as notice for how this mission would be cursed. Scott Frank and Edward Burns share blame for the idiotic script, bastardized from the excellent one Lukas Heller wrote for the 1965 original directed by Robert Aldrich. Aldrich’s son William was one of the producers. The no-quiche old man (Kiss Me Deadly, Attack!, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Yard) must have spun like a propeller in his grave.
Instead of Libya, where the first version was set, this 2004 journey into the Republic of Impoverished Imaginations places the action in Mongolia. Filming in the The Gobi was a no-go(bi), so it was shot in Africa, in the desert of Namibia. The spectacular orange sand dunes outside Swakopmund are one thing in the 113 minutes worth looking at. Well, okay, the crash scene is decent, but darn near everything that follows is comically bad.
An oil drilling operation in Mongolia goes bust. Unsympathetic cargo pilot ‘Captain Frank Towns’ (Dennis Quaid) is tasked with transporting the resentful crew and an oddball hitchhiker. The overloaded plane runs into a monster dust storm and crash-lands in the desert, 200 miles off course, out of radio contact. Low on water, quarreling over decisions, threatened by armed, mounted smugglers, the group agrees to the outlandish idea from the off-putting hitchhiker: build a new, smaller, bare-bones aircraft out of what’s left of the old one. Do or die.
The ’65 original boasted a stellar cast of stars and character players, had tart dialogue and cooked along with tension and grit to spare, maintaining adult-oriented concentration for 142 minutes, with no needless falderol. With one exception, the acting here feels either forced (is this Quaid’s worst performance?) or phoned-in (the rest of a bland crew), the action scenes with the bandits are ridiculous, the behavioral shifts are arbitrary and illogical; you don’t care what happens to anyone. A half-hour shorter, it feels longer, once you realize–about twenty minutes in—that it’s not going to get better, but indeed will become more and more irritating as it slogs on. The script is appalling–whose idea was it to have the moronic pop-tune interlude with the supposedly exhausted survivors bonding over a jam? Stupid stuff for a generation dumbed down by the false passions of American Idol and a zillion other junk rushes. It not so much insults intelligence as it assumes you don’t have any to start with.
One of the actors does at least roast his inner ham to a briefly amusing degree: Giovanni Ribisi, as the odd-man-out who takes charge of the reconstruction that creates the Phoenix —the key role played by the great Hardy Kruger originally—goes full bat bonkers, vainly trying to inject some kinky life into the twisted hulk of the screenplay.
Life mimicking fiction showed up when a mishap critically injured a 2nd-unit cameraman; the 800-pound fiberglass model plane bounced off a dune and smashed through the plywood barrier he was shooting from. His winning lawsuit cost Fox $3,950,000. That must have made some executive producers heads roll, particularly after the critical lambasting the movie was given, which preceded the $45,000,000 investment cartwheeling into the desert of lost reputations with a worldwide gross of $34,586,268, force-landing at 103rd place for the year.
With Miranda Otto, Tyrese Gibson,Tony Curran, Hugh Laurie, Jacob Vargas, Scott Michael Campbell, Sticky Fingaz (Kirk Jones) and Kevork Malikyan. And it’s got a lame finale more suitable for a comedy. Yeesh…