Cliff Robertson as a wily barnstormer in the 1920s who makes his airplane his occupation. With a story by newcomer Steven Spielberg, "Ace Eli" is predictably nostalgic and not uninteresting. It has some sentiment, which is quickly evened out with grit, and a good performance by child actor Eric Shea (aside from his turn as the brainiac in "The Poseidon Adventure", this is Shea's shining moment). Robertson doesn't quite convince as a stud in the skies simply because he's so laconic as an actor; Robertson seems to love planes, but there's no glee in the man as a performer. Had Eli been played as a devilish old rascal, there might be something to the relationship between the flier and the kid, but Robertson isn't into buddyisms (he's not about to play the comic foil, nor is he willing to be a cut-up). The women are a different matter: Pamela Franklin gets most of the screen-time as a flapper, yet she's curt and cold; Bernadette Peters, as a flooze, is much preferable because she's anxious to cut through the baloney. The flying sequences are very good, but director John Erman loses his impetus on the ground, and his details are all wrong (after seeing Robertson apparently getting sick from drinking at a party, Franklin allows him to kiss her on the mouth in a barn--surely not a fancy flapper with a brand new set of wheels!). The poor reception the picture received must have bruised Spielberg (that and the release of the not dissimilar "Paper Moon" the same year). But, aside from some faults, it's an engaging, minor item. **1/2 from ****
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