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September 22, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | September 22, 2006 |

For all six of you out there who really can’t get enough of “Flying Aces”-style WWI aerial combat, an interest probably begotten of some video game, Flyboys is the movie you’ve been waiting for. Based on the true story of the Lafayette Escadrille — a squadron of American fighter pilots who served in the First World War before the United States even entered the fray — Flyboys is a Top Gun-like recreation of their exploits. And Top Gun is a pretty useful basis of comparison here: Just like that particular Tom Cruise vehicle, Flyboys offers a plethora of dogfights and action imagery that should make every preteen kid squeal and twitch their Nintendo thumbs. For them and some particularly esoteric war enthusiasts, this will be fun; for anyone else, there’s no big reason to care.

The story hits the ground running, setting up a few flimsy backgrounds for some of the pilots and then whisking them away to wartime France. And herein lies an initial problem: Why?! It seems to me that joining up with an incipient military corps to fight for a country you’ve never been to is a pretty random thing to do. Why not volunteer for the Portuguese navy or mine diamonds in Rhodesia? Why not fly an air balloon over the Mongolian steppes? You get the idea. We’re told that de facto leader James Franco is trying to escape arrest in Texas and a couple of the others have vaguely patriotic inclinations, but from the get-go we’re never really presented with a reason that this cast of characters should have a particular interest in flying or fighting in the war. Most of them seem to be doing it for shits and giggles.

Anyway, once they arrive on the battlefront, Franco and company start training for their biplanes (there are some nice montages that keep the action snappy) under the leadership of Captain Thenault (Jean Reno, Hollywood’s go-to Frenchie) and a particularly jaded ace pilot (Martin Henderson). After they complete their montages, they begin flying missions and duking it out with smarmy German aces, showcased in pretty invigorating CG sequences.

Problem the Second arises as soon as the sweetly goofy and effervescent young characters we were introduced to start coexisting poorly with the violence of war and combat. As a whole, Flyboys has a distinctly amateurish feel to it — like a low-budget Disney or PBS film (which makes sense considering that they’ve deigned to advertise on our site) with cartoonish characters who have all the commanding presence of a titmouse. Of all the characters besides Reno, Franco is the only one who seems to have much experience, and he’s far too bland an actor to revolve the plot around. The film doesn’t really show any dynamic energy at all until the planes hit the sky. These aerial combat sequences are impressive for their visceral action and seeming authenticity, but otherwise feel oddly out of place with the rest of the movie. Ironically, though, they’re the only thing keeping us awake, especially when the film drags on for far too long in order to flesh out a subplot in which Franco woos a maiden fair.

Flyboys is boring and bland, though perhaps ultimately innocuous. The plot is predictable, which is not a good combination when the characters aren’t very engaging to begin with. For aviation and/or historical enthusiasts, there should be plenty of eye candy to make it worth the effort. For the rest of us, it should be pretty obvious as to why there hasn’t been a movie about this stuff in over 40 years.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

But Seriously Though: Can You Take Me High Enough?

Flyboys / Phillip Stephens

Film | September 22, 2006 |


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