Monthly Archives: September 2005

Flightplan (2005)

Anyone else tired of seeing that damn trailer for Flightplan? Ever since maybe June, I’ve been seeing Jodie Foster freak out on an airplane. The trailer also had the misfortune of revealing way too much information about the film’s plot, seriously spoiling a key moment. This got me thinking about other movie trailers that spoil the movie. The worst offender I can fathom is 1998’s The Negotiator, where Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey are pitted against each other as hostage negotiators on opposite sides. The trailer had the nerve to reveal that Spacey and Jackson team up in the end to fight The Man collectively. Why does it seem that movie trailers these days spell out film twists? Are movie audiences demanding more investment before shelling out money? Do studios just not have faith in audiences anymore? With all this in mind, I ventured into Flightplan with my family thinking there might be more to the film than one poorly spoiled twist. I was wrong.

Kyle Pratt (Foster) is a very distraught woman. She’s returning from Berlin to the United States with the casket of her dead husband aboard. To make things worse, at 30,000 feet her daughter Julia goes missing. Kyle looks around the giant aircraft that she helped design, still not finding any trace of her absent little girl. Kyle becomes more frantic the more she looks and finds nothing, troubling an air marshal (Peter Sasrgaard) and the pilot (Sean Bean). No one remembers seeing Julia on board. She believes her daughter is somewhere and someone is definitely responsible. Kyle is dealt a crushing blow when word comes from a Berlin mortician that not only is the plane carrying the body of her dead husband but also her dead daughter. Is Kyle right or is she one crazy mamma? And so the drama unfolds.

Flightplan is a rather boring trip. Well over half of this movie is spent watching Kyle wig out and search compartments for her missing kid. She’s frantic and possessed and it’s interesting to watch a woman come undone, especially of Foster’s talent, but after several searches and little progression, the film feels like it’s going nowhere. There’s very little story for very long stretches of time. Flightplan relies on its outlandish final twists to provide a story, because without them the film would just have been 60 minutes of a mother freaking out on a plane. You can see that with home movies.

The premise is a direct homage (or rip-off) of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, but Flightplan could have been something special if it wasn’t so afraid of going against convention. The film sets up our leading lady looking for her missing child, and as the hours tick away she becomes more and more undone, practically terrorizing the other passengers. In a bit of incisive bigotry, Kyle even unfairly blames a pair of Middle Eastern passengers, who then garner everyone’s suspicious eyes. Now, with all this set up, what if Flightplan took a different path and we remained in doubt whether Kyle ever had a living daughter, and then through her grief, confusion, frustration, and misplaced anger she became a terrorist and was the cause of the plane going down. Wouldn’t that be neat? A little thought-provoking about role reversals in a post-9/11 anxiety-riddled world? It’s not like I expected a dour, Twilight Zone-esque ending, but Flightplan presents Kyle as a crazy woman with the entire world against her, and yet the movie virtually winks at you to say, “Don’t worry, this is Hollywood, no matter how outlandish the conspiracy, our heroine will always be right.” At the end, the film even has the distasteful audacity to have a scene where Kyle walks past every airline passenger, shaming them for having ever doubted a crazy loud woman who had terrified them and jeopardizing their safety. Shame on you all, passengers. Don’t you know that she’s Jodie Foster? She has TWO OSCARS! Kyle doesn’t even offer an apology to the Middle Eastern passengers, and they even carry her bags for crying out loud!

There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s Flightplan. The missing-daughter scheme is so ridiculous, so convoluted, so rickety, that it makes Scooby-Doo schemes look downright like Hitchcock. For those who have seen the film, or just want to know the laundry list of variables to allow this plan to work, read on (massive spoilers ahead). Apparently, the ones behind everything are the helpful air marshal and one stewardess. They want to squeeze 50 million dollars from the airline. This is the best way they propose to do so: First, they locate an airline engineer living abroad and kill her husband and make it look like suicide. Then they pay off the mortician so they can stash explosives in her husband’s security sealed coffin. Then apparently they know when Kyle will want to fly again and it also happens to be a flight that the marshal and the stewardess will be scheduled aboard. Now, once the plane is in flight, the marshal somehow manages to steal the little girl, awakening no one, takes Kyle?s boarding pass and doesn’t awaken her, and stows the little girl away without being seen. They then let Kyle go nuts looking for her missing tyke so they can, get this, have a credible hijacker that they can accuse of plotting to blow up the plane unless … she gets 50 million wired into an account. Afterwards, the marshal will somehow get the Feds to kill Kyle and he’ll slip the detonator in her cold dead hand. Oh, and the stewardess changes the flight manifest twice too. What. The. Hell? Does this sound like the easiest way to make money? This plan also involves Kyle wiggling her way into the cargo hold and manually opening her hubby’s casket with the security code so that the marshal can get a hold of the hidden explosives. This entire tortuous plan revolves around a primary assumption that NO ONE will remember or interact with Kyle’s daughter the entire time. This assumes not a single person will remember little Julia, even though mother and daughter boarded first onto an empty plane. What would happen if Julia hit the call button for a pillow? Oops. What would happen if anyone next to them just said, “Hi?” Oops. What would happen if people on the plane contacted anyone at the airport? Oops. The entire conspiracy rests on 400 people’s bad memories. Those do not seem like good odds to me, but then again I’m not a movie villain. The entire heft of Flightplan is built around the revealing of this nefarious, fool-proof plot. The movie can’t help but crash and burn with such a laughable, preposterous Big Twist to give plausibility to the proceedings.

It’s a shame because Foster gives a real nail-biting performance. She’s splendidly rattled and lets the audience see the gears of fear turn in her eyes. The acting as a whole is the lone strength of Flightplan. Foster provides entertainment just from her sheer talent to be able to make a turkey like this flick even remotely watchable. The rest of the cast is okay to good and they all deserve pilot wings for keeping straight faces.

Flightplan is a timid, tedious, tiresome, and painfully preposterous thriller. Foster’s excellent performance is wasted in a film that spins its wheels before unleashing a dreaded torrent of illogical plot twists. You may be twisting your head around just to understand how any of this deeply flawed movie could be plausible. Flightplan should appeal to people that liked 2004’s The Forgotten, a very similar child-vanishes thriller. Another thing both movies have in common is that they’re utterly terrible.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Waiting… (2005)

I have always respected restaurant workers; it’s just how I’ve been brought up. Short of elephant in vitro fertilization, being a waiter has got to be one of the hardest, most thankless jobs on the planet. The waiter (or server, the popularized non-gender specific term) is always the last responsible for food and the first to bear the brunt of a customer’s wrath. They’re easy targets. Their livelihood is also dependent on the idea of common decency in mankind. For these tortured, put upon, overlooked lot comes a new comedy aimed to ease the pain. Waiting… is a balls-out (pun very much intended) gross-out comedy that will make you a better, more sympathetic tipper (I generally start at 20 percent).

Welcome to the wonderful, family-friendly world of Shenaniganz. It’s another day of business for the restaurant staff and another day of enduring the slings and arrows of unruly customers. Monty (Ryan Reynolds), the leader of the pack, escorts a newbie (Freaks and Geeks‘ John Francis Daley) through the rules and customs of the Shenaniganz family. The cooks (Dane Cook, Luis Guzman) like to get randy at work, the bus boys (Max Kasch, MTV’s Andy Milonakis) like to hide in freezers and toke up, and the wait staff (Anna Faris, Justin Long) are all dating each other. Meanwhile, Dean (Long) is mulling over whether to take the manager’s job offered to him by his buffoonish boss (David Koechner). He feels his life is going nowhere and he’s stuck in a dead-end job. And there’s a store-wide game where workers try and get other people to inadvertently look at their genitals. God I hope this doesn’t go on when I order my food.

Bishop (Chi McBride) tells two other characters, “You guys are so one-dimensional.” It’s like the movie’s doing my job for me. Waiting… is stocked with underdeveloped characters that don’t even seem used properly. They all have one characteristic of note, from the white wannabe rappers to the bitchy self-loathing server that’s been there longer than anyone else. There’s a lesbian bartender and by the end of the movie that’s still the only thing you know or feel about her. Dean’s girlfriend (Kaitlin Doubleday) has nothing to add to her character, nothing to really say, no personality, she’s just “the girlfriend.” Waiting… has so many lame, poorly developed characters that go nowhere and shed little purpose or personality. It’s a general waste of talent, especially Faris and Guzman.

Reynolds is a charming and gifted comedic actor. He’s got the rat-a-tat-tat delivery down cold and adds a great polish to dialogue that ordinarily wouldn’t seem funny. He can seem at once jerky, knowing, charming, distasteful, and funny. Consider Reynolds a Vince Vaughn Jr. in the making. Long is supposed to play a character dissatisfied with his bearings in life, yet he comes across as disinterested in being in the movie. You almost expect him to shrug his shoulders and just say, “Whatever.” Long too is a very capable comedic actor but he needs far broader roles (Dodgeball) than something where he has to shuffle his feet and mope a lot. As stated earlier, Waiting… really wastes most of its talent by stranding them in thankless roles that don’t give them much to do or add. Koechner is the bright spot as a clueless, leering buffoon of a manager who keeps trying to connect with “the kids” and score with some as well.

The story feels the same way. For a 90 minute movie so much of this feels unbearably plodding. Waiting… sets up the life of a restaurant well but then can’t find much to do. The story feels formless and the characters can?t provide any direction because of their limitations. The plot seems like a group of anecdotes looking for structure. Even the comedy is rather uninspired and bland. Waiting… attempts gross-out guffaws but just ends up becoming, well, kind of gross. Dropping food and serving it doesn’t exactly register on the Ha-Ha meter no matter how many times the act is repeated. The gross-out apex comes when vengeance is heaped upon a very hostile customer with an assembly line of new “additions” to her order. In this one instance the gross-out is transcended because the audience cares about the situation. Most of the humor is juvenile and not even good at it; the penis-showing-game is inherently homophobic and a running gag with little payoff. The best joke in Waiting… is the film’s production design; Shenaniganz looks nearly identical to those homogenized chain restaurants dotting the landscape. If you stay throughout the entire end credits you’ll discover that all the crap on the walls is actually an elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque device.

Waiting… is a very knowledgeable film about the food service industry, what with writer/director Rob McKittrick spending years and years in restaurants. I think the only way you could seriously enjoy this comedy, while sober, is if you have experience working in food service. My fiancĂ©e has spent years as a server and she identified more with the characters than I ever could. There are scenes in Waiting… that are a server’s fantasy, like when Dean returns his measly one-dollar tip back to his customer. The movie is a safe release for people in the field, much like Office Space. McKittrick even thanks Kevin Smith in the closing credits, but Waiting… doesn’t have an iota of the wit, intelligence, and comedic savvy of Clerks. This is a bargain basement comedy that will largely appeal to fellow restaurant slaves yearning to have their beaten voice heard.

Waiting… is an aimless comedy with no characters to feel for, little personality beyond its knowledge of the restaurant environment, and a cast done in by one-note roles and bland gross-out jokes. Reynolds walks away with his dignity and adds a comedic polish to some otherwise ordinary jokes. Mostly, the film feels like a waste of time, energy, and talent. Waiting… will definitely appeal to people who have felt the wrath of working in food service, but objectively this is one comedy that just doesn’t order up any laughs.

Nate’s Grade: C

A Sound of Thunder (2005)

A Sound of Thunder, based on the classic short story by Ray Bradbury, is a movie that no one is going to see by design. It was shot way back in 2002, traded directors when Renny Harlin left to make Mindhunters and Peter Hyams (End of Days, The Relic) stepped in, sat on a shelf for two years, and now is being released without a peep. I have not seen a single TV ad, a single trailer, and until a few days ago I hadn’t even seen a poster for the film. It’s like the studio doesn’t want anyone to know that A Sound of Thunder exists and that they?re responsible. With zero advertising, the only people who are going to pay to see this are those familiar with Bradbury’s story. A Sound of Thunder will be gone in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t help that the movie is awful.

In the year 2055, time travel is here and available to those with deep pockets. Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley) runs a service that allows rich people to travel back millions of years for the ultimate big game hunt — dinosaurs. The time squad is led by Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), a brilliant scientist biding his time working for the man. The time travel inventor (Catherine McCormack) warns about the dangers with playing around in the past. The tiniest alteration could drastically change the future. Hatton assures everything is safe; they hunt the same dinosaur that is just about to be destroyed and touch nothing else. Of course something does go wrong. On one hunt the clients run off the safe path and accidentally step on a butterfly. This causes “time waves” to sweep the present-day Earth and kick start some evolutionary changes. Travis is left to figure out what went wrong and fix it before humankind is wiped off the planet with the next wave.

The movie pretends to play with brainy sci-fi principles, but A Sound of Thunder is really an empty vacuum of logic. As a precautionary measure, the team only travels back in time and hunts the same damned dinosaur. This dinosaur is special because it’s minutes away from getting stuck in a tar pit and then being obliterated by an exploding volcano. The team picks this dinosaur because hunting it won’t disrupt the fabric of time. Gotcha, but then why does stepping on a butterfly even matter? Is a butterfly seriously going to survive the oncoming volcanic blast and wall of ash? If the butterfly is just moments away from it too being destroyed, then why does killing it seconds earlier affect all of evolution? And how come these changes in time are always disastrous? Can’t someone just as reasonably step on a butterfly and wipe out cancer?

Let’s talk about A Sound of Thunder‘s alternate evolutionary timeline. In this world, because of our infamous butterfly stomping, apes and dinosaurs have inexplicably become linked. They’ve evolved into some weird hybrid, with a baboon head and the body of a dinosaur. This seems entirely implausible to me that two very different creatures would just blend together. At least A Sound of Thunder could have gone all out and had other animal mash-ups, like a whale/hummingbird or a walrus/cheetah. A Sound of Thunder could be rivaled by The Wuzzles in evolutionary theory (please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers The Wuzzles). I would have been more interested if A Sound of Thunder presented the future dinosaurs as fully evolved after an additional 65 million years. Let’s see dinos with industry, tools, community, language, and maybe even popular culture. It sure would be more interesting and imaginative than big dumb monsters.

A Sound of Thunder isn’t a sci-fi puzzler; it’s really a monster movie in disguise. After the evolutionary wrench, the film descends into a banal series of chase scenes, with our characters being plucked one-by-one by different monsters. The characters still manage to spout sci-fi dribble while on the run. Of course the characters can’t stop themselves from doing stupid things. A guy warns our team to be quiet lest they awaken the hordes of sleeping baboon-dinos hanging overhead. So what do they do? They make sure to shine their flashlights repeatedly in the creatures? faces. A Sound of Thunder is more preoccupied with what can go bump in the night than sci-fi brainteasers.

Not how evolution works.

A Sound of Thunder has some of the worst special effects I have ever seen. I’m talking about effects that would be shown up by some half-baked video game from the mid ’90s. It’s really hard to fully explain how profoundly bad the effects are. The green screen work is ugly and painful, with characters surrounded by halos and walking on invisible treadmills. The future’s boxy cars look like they were assembled by Lego. The look of the dinosaur is curiously retro, all sleek, entirely green or brown, and lacking definition. It looks like what people in the 1950s thought dinosaurs looked like. In the wake of Jurassic Park, a less realistic, more reptilian dinosaur is not the way to go. The film tries to save money by using the same dinosaur and repeating the scene with diminishing returns. Every special effect in A Sound of Thunder comes across as flimsy from the wildlife, to the skyscrapers, to the dinosaurs, to even a subway car and rising water. Every effect is so terribly obvious and obviously terrible.

The film’s acting is expectantly dull. Kingsley hams it up and has great fun as his money-grubbing business tycoon. He adds a zest to his lines. Burns plays every role so dead-panned that I doubt I will ever see an emotion from him that isn’t accompanied by a smirk. The rest of the actors couldn’t find their way with an industrial flashlight to shine in a monkey-dino’s eyes.

A Sound of Thunder is an inept sci-fi flick more concerned with hungry monsters than ideas. The special effects are abysmal, the acting is wooden, the plot holes are glaring, and the atmosphere is laughable. This giant schlockfest is so bad that it achieves a fun campy value, destined to become a drinking game for science fiction nerds. Only Ray Bradbury fans will be at the theater to see A Sound of Thunder, so in turn that means only Ray Bradbury fans will be disappointed with how terrible the film adaptation is. Everyone else will be at home scratching their heads; certain that a film called A Sound of Thunder never existed. Just like the studio wants.

Nate’s Grade: D-

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