A potbellied silver plane skims low over shimmering sand dunes as Johnny Cash yodels "I've been everywhere" on the soundtrack. "I've been everywhere, man," sings Johnny. "Crossed the deserts bare...
A potbellied silver plane skims low over shimmering sand dunes as Johnny Cash yodels “I’ve been everywhere” on the soundtrack. “I’ve been everywhere, man,” sings Johnny. “Crossed the deserts bare, man.”
Thus it begins: the long-awaited remake of “Flight of the Phoenix,” which audiences around the globe have been clamoring for since 1965. Or maybe not.
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But anyway, it’s here, remade from the Jimmy Stewart original about a plane crash in the Sahara that leaves the desperate survivors at each other’s throats.
Dennis Quaid takes the Stewart role as a crusty pilot named Towns. He’s sent to cap an unproductive well and pick up the disgruntled crew of an oil rig in remote Mongolia, putting them all out of work. En route back to civilization, the plane crashes, this time in the Gobi Desert during a cheesy, whirling, computer-generated sandstorm. The aircraft is photographed, inexplicably, from such a distance that it appears to be a distant speck bobbing in a bowl of soup.
Once on the ground, we meet the castaways properly. First there’s Quaid as Towns, of course, looking more than ever like he needs a tooth extracted immediately. There are six or seven oil-rig workers, interchangeable despite the fact that this 21st-century crew is pointedly multicultural. Then there’s Kelly, The Woman Character (played by Miranda Otto), and the mysterious, dapper, peroxide blond Elliott (played with considerable panache by Giovanni Ribisi).
Elliott, we soon learn (much to our surprise), is an airplane designer, and he proposes, in a nasal Bugs Bunny voice, that they all work together to build a little airplane from the wreckage of the big one. Here the dialogue really sparkles:
“It’s worth a try!” says one of the interchangeable crew members.
“Let’s build it!” says another, agreeably.
Towns, however, pooh-poohs the idea on the grounds that the exertion required to build an airplane will make them drink their limited supply of water faster, which will kill them sooner. Eventually, however, under pressure from the others, he agrees. Meanwhile, some ill-intentioned nomads are lurking among the dunes, possibly planning to attack the motley little crew. Oh dear.
“Nomads!” huffs Towns, thoroughly vexed, “the last thing we need!”
Of course, the hold of the wrecked airplane is stuffed with welding tools, clamps, hammers, chisels, a generator it’s pretty much the Gobi branch of Boeing Surplus. Things are going swimmingly, with the crew working cheerfully at night, until they accidentally blow up most of their limited supply of fuel.
This means, since they have no fuel to light their nighttime work, that they will have to toil by day in order to be able to see what they’re doing. Which means that they will drink their water faster. More important, they will all take their shirts off (except The Woman Character) and display their pectorals at length.
“Flight of the Phoenix” is supremely silly, so much so that it’s very entertaining at times. It’s like “Gilligan’s Island” without the island or like “The Poseidon Adventure” without the water. Quaid sticks manfully to the single note in his monochromatic performance, while Ribisi, always fun to watch, appears to think that he’s actually starring in “The Aviator.” As he goes a bit bonkers, he’s even more irresistible. The movie lumbers gamely toward its foregone conclusion.
There’s really no reason to have remade this film, but what’s done is done. If you’re in the right frame of mind for some dopey fun enlivened with unintentionally funny bits, for a ham-fisted movie that doesn’t tax your brain with a lot of pesky ideas and three-dimensional characters, this may be just the ticket. If not, forget it.