A group of air crash survivors are stranded in the Mongolian desert with no chance of rescue. Facing a brutal environment, dwindling resources, and an attack by desert smugglers, they realize their only hope is doing the impossible... building a new plane from the wreckage of the old one. Written by
"Flight of the Phoenix" is at best a so-so remake of the fine Robert Aldrich adventure classic from1965. The plot in both films is fairly simple and straightforward. After a plane crash lands in the Gobi Desert, the survivors hit upon the notion of rebuilding the damaged vehicle in the hopes of flying it back to civilization. Dennis Quaid assumes the role, originally filled by Jimmy Stewart, of the pilot who, against all odds, endeavors to lead his passengers to safety.
Although the new version follows the original fairly closely in terms of both character delineation and plot development, the story doesn't seem quite as fresh today as it did when we first encountered it close to 40 years ago. Perhaps what's missing is the guiding hand of a master craftsman like Aldrich to really deliver the goods (John Moore, a far less distinguished director, is manning the controls here). This "Flight" feels awfully predictable and rote, as we plow our way through each of the various survival threats, rescue attempts and internecine personal conflicts that are standard in all such tales of survivors stranded in a hostile environment. Each of the characters steps out of the shadows to have his or her own Moment in the Sun (yes, in this version, there is actually a woman aboard), before receding dutifully into the background to allow the next person to do the same. About the only intriguing element in the story is the fact that the main character, the pilot of the plane, has to actually be talked into participating in the Quixotic rescue plan. Thus, he is a leader and a hero more by default than by design.
Although the crash itself is fairly impressive from a technical standpoint - despite a rather phony-looking, computer-generated sandstorm that brings the plane down - once we end up on the desert floor, the movie doesn't do a particularly effective job conveying the truly grueling nature of the predicament these individuals are facing. We never really get the sense that they are just a few water droplets away from dying of thirst or heatstroke. Moreover, the feat that they are able to accomplish seems barely credible - from a sheer mechanical engineering standpoint - given the lack of resources and expertise with which the group has to cope. The main weakness with a film like "Flight of the Phoenix" is that, when the plane goes down, we're stuck in the desert right along with the characters, and if they don't have anything particularly interesting to say to one another, we can feel just as stranded as they.
Thus, despite a few quality moments, this "Flight" never manages to get off the runway. Check out the original instead.
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