Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
Welcome back to another edition of Unhappy Hour, pop culture fiends! Man, the world of celebs, TV, and movies sure does test our limits at every turn. Life is just so rough. But, that's why holiday weekends like Memorial Day are so important. You could blame your penchant for summertime brews on the stress of like, work, or something, but believe us: These pop culture happenings are worse.
Besides, what a better badge of pop culture honor is there than answering the inevitable "What's got you so stressed?" question with something like, "My favorite TV show won't be back until September, okay? LAY OFF!"? Now, sit back, work out that grilling arm, grab a beer, and get ready for the most ridiculous goings-on from the week of May 21.
Beware! This post contains spoilers from Revenge, American Idol, and Glee!
Have Some Light Beers By The Grill
Is That You, Jack? Alex Cross Renders Matthew Fox Unrecognizable
It already broke our hearts to see Matthew Fox go alternate-universe Jack when he ended up with that pesky DUI, but now, he's looking like a lesser version of The Dark Knight Rises' Bane. Why is this happening?
Alison Brie Is Off the Market, Boys
The darling actress known for her roles on Community and Mad Men has reportedly been dating Dave Franco for months now. They even buy groceries together and hold hands. Boys, I'm sorry. Ladies, prepare for the moping. So much moping.
Kristen Stewart Wore These Lizard Lady Pants In Public
Just click. And accept this preemptive apology: We're sorry. No one should have to see those pants.
Battleship Already Got Us Drunk Once
Some boats make you seasick. This boat gives you the drunk-person wobble.
Grab a Rum Punch, Heavy on the Rum (Mini-Umbrella Optional)
Bill Clinton Was Caught Chilling With Porn Stars In Monte Carlo
Because as Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy says, our good opinion once lost is lost forever? Oh well. Party on, Mr. President.
Glee's Season Finale Was a Nonsensical Journey to No Where
Graduation didn't clean up any of our McKinley set's issues. It just took the riff-raff and brushed it under the rug. And then it sent Rachel Berry to New York in a Cracker Jack Flight Attendant suit four months before she's supposed to start college. Hot. Mess.
Idol's Cute-Southern-Boy-Loving Army Triumphs... Again
Look, Phillip Phillips is fantastic. And adorable. And talented. And did we mention how adorable he is? He's great. It would just be nice if for once, since the time Jordin Sparks took the title, we didn't see the Cute Southern White Boy's win coming from a mile away.
Take a Trip to Long Island... Iced Tea
Revenge is Done Until September. And Victoria Might Be Dead.
It's bad enough that we have to live without the Hamptons melodrama until September, but now we can't be sure our beloved Queen Victoria Grayson will be around come premiere time. In the final minutes of the Season 1 finale, Victoria supposedly died in a plane crash, but we refuse to believe it. Revenge without Victoria is like a nice glass of scotch... minus the scotch.
Showrunner Dan Harmon was fired from Community
So much for #SixSeasonsAndAMovie. The man whose slightly worrisome brain spawned the pop culture darling that is NBC's Community, has been shoved off the poop deck of his beloved ship. This is the darkest timeline. Prepare your black, felt goatee.
Justin Bieber Just Ruined Your Childhood
This is almost the limit for weird celebrity behavior, give or take a Kanye West pants malfunction: Justin Bieber's has a nickname for his genetalia. Oh, but it gets worse. The nickname is Jerry, which started a Twitter phenomenon of ardent fans promising to be the Tom to Bieber's Jerry. (Shudder.) Hanna Barbara, we've failed you.
Nicole Kidman Gives Zac Efron a Shower of Sorts in Their Cannes Flick
Yep. This is the limit. This is just about as much as we can handle. Nicole Kidman's character bestows a golden show upon Zac Efron in their new movie The Paperboy. And no, I will not be footing the bill for your subsequent therapy sessions upon reading that sentence.
What do you think was the most despicable pop culture story this week? Sound off in the comments!
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler. [Image: ABC] More: Unhappy Hour: 10 Ways Pop Culture Gave Us a Reason to Drink
There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.