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A small desert rig searching for oil, managed by Kelly (Miranda Otto), is forcibly shut down and a cargo plane is sent to pick them up, to fly them to Beijing and beyond, across the Gobi desert. The plane hits a giant sandstorm and pilot Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) tries to fly round it, unsuccessfully. When the plane crashes, two of the passengers are killed and the survivors face uncertainty, isolation and the wild side of nature. Also on board is Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), an unexpected traveller who was waiting for a ride out of the desert when the cargo plane arrived. The withdrawn young man eventually comes up with the remarkable plan to rebuild the downed plane from the salvageable components. Towns refuses to go along with the harebrained scheme, until a small band of deadly desert smugglers turns up to reinforce the dangers they face staying stuck in the sand. But bad weather, bad luck and bad feeling between the small band of survivors threaten to kill them off before the plan is realised.

Review by Louise Keller:
A boys own adventure that relies on its exotic setting rather than credible storyline, Flight of the Phoenix fails to take flight due to a mindless script and uninspiring direction. A remake of the 1965 film starring James Stewart, Peter Finch, George Kennedy and Ernest Borgnine, the story is based on a novel by Elleston Trevor about a group of people stranded in the middle of the Mongolian desert with little hope of being rescued, after their plane crashes in a storm.

Dennis Quaid heads the cast of the remake, and injects a considerable amount of gravitas into his role as pilot Frank Towns, while Giovanni Ribisi makes his enigmatic Elliott, an intriguing eccentric character. It's credit to all the cast that they deliver the trite lines the script demands with such conviction - lines like 'Are you ok?' and 'Let's go home; we're not garbage, we're people to our families.' In fact Quaid is so convincing as he gives his life-affirming motivational speech at the end of the film, I was sure he must be referring to the fact that the shoot was nearly over.

Director John Moore has not been able to keep the reigns on this project to maximise its effectiveness as a thrilling survival adventure. He seems intent on the impossible task to make the film into a Lawrence of Arabia/Lost Horizon epic. The situations and responses seem so contrived, including the casting of Miranda Otto as the head of the oil rig. Otto is as good as ever, but her role is obviously that of a token female. This is one project that the multi-talented Edward Burns, who is credited for co-writing the script with Scott Frank, will undoubtedly want to forget.

The film begins with plenty of promise as the group whose oil rig has been shut down, boards the plane reluctantly. There's a lively rapport in the cockpit between Quaid's Towns and his co-pilot AJ, played by charismatic Tyrese Gibson, as the plane takes off, which is contrasted by the mood of the passengers strapped in the back. The scenes of turbulence as the plane flies through the storm are terrifying, offering the only moments that we actually connect with the characters. The South African Namibian Desert (doubling for the Gobi Desert) is spectacular - ripples of barren sand dunes that extend as far as the eye can see. I also enjoyed Marco Beltrami's score, which incorporates vocalizations and African and middle Eastern influence in some of its passages.

Incongruities in the script will irritate the discerning, and the relationships all seem fake and contrived. Teenage boys may enjoy this adventure on some level, but for the rest of us, it is more interesting to read about the origins of the Phoenix, a mythical bird that lives forever.

Published October 27, 2005

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(US, 2004)

CAST: Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Tony Curran, Krk Jones, Hugh Laurie

PRODUCER: William Aldrich, Alex Blum, John Davis, Wyck Godfrey

DIRECTOR: John Moore

SCRIPT: Scott Frank, Edward Burns (Lukas Heller, 1965 screenplay)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Brendan Galvin (Donal Caulfield, time lapse)

EDITOR: Don Zimmerman

MUSIC: Marco Beltrami


RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes



PRESENTATION: Widescreen 16:9


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: October 26, 2005

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