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Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

Despite the occasional intrusion of 21st-century editing and pop songs, Flight of the Phoenix (2004) feels like one of those leisurely, man's-man adventure movies you used to be able to catch on Sunday-afternoon TV. It's not going to end up being a classic, and its screenplay (by Scott Frank and Edward Burns) certainly never rises to the level of wit. But there's just something reliable about the film — it sketches its characters vividly, it's handsomely shot, it's comfortably slow in the middle stretch, and it stays focused on a survival story that's actually pretty clever, even if no one ever really seems to be suffering. Of course, it's a survival story that was clever back in 1965, too — when the original The Flight of the Phoenix stranded an all-star, meat-eatin' cast (Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Ernest Borgnine, and George Kennedy among them) in the desert after a plane crash. This time around, the cast is decidedly less meat-eatin' — Dennis Quaid, Miranda Otto, Giovanni Ribisi, Hugh Laurie, and Tyrese Gibson get top billing — but the twist is the same: At the urging of an eccentric engineer (Ribisi), our bickering heroes try to cheat death by building a new, smaller plane out of the wreckage of the old one. Quaid's in fine form here as Frank Towns, the original Jimmy Stewart role; between this and In Good Company (2004), it's been nice to see him lose the dour scowl that plagued him through The Alamo. He plays nicely off Ribisi, who gives a performance so mannered — pursed lips, erect gait, bizarre way of saying, "'kay?" — that they might as well have hired Truman Capote. Still, Ribisi's performance works, somehow; in fact, the best scene in the movie is one where he forces everyone to say "please" as they beg him to finish designing their miracle plane. Ultimately, this is one of those pleasant B-movie adventures that's at its best when it unapologetically embraces cliché. It's the sort of film where the wind kicks up just when Quaid and Ribisi are fighting, where nomadic bandits show up during climactic moments in the Gobi Desert, where the fellas do some male bonding as they fix a C-119 to the sounds of "Hey Ya!" — and you don't mind a bit. Oh, and the opening plane crash? Wicked-sweet. Fox's DVD release of Flight of the Phoenix includes a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and booming Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, as would be expected for a movie of this caliber. Supplements include a commentary from filmmakers John Moore, John Davis, Wyck Godfrey and Patrick Lamb, the behind-the-scenes documentary "The Phoenix Diaries" (42 min.), four extended scenes, and two deleted scenes with commentary. Keep-case.
M.E. Russell

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