Did you say there’s a new movie about airplanes? Surely you can’t be serious! Oh but I am serious (and stop calling me Shirley). This time we aren’t dealing with snakes, but rather revisiting the aerial dogfights and heroics of the “war to end all wars.” It is the story of the Lafayette Escadrille — a special corps of Yankee volunteers who joined with France before the United States entered the war. The movie shows promise, especially in its filming, but it simply gets weighed down by its script and its saccharine “inspired by a true story” mood.
Let’s get to the good news first. The film is not bad. In fact, considering the “veteran” star is James Franco and a high proportion of the supporting actors have Thunderbirds as one of their very few screen credits, the cast clicks in a convincing way. Franco stars as Blaine Rawlings, a down-and-out cattle rancher who has nowhere to go. Upon arriving in France he finds that his new roommates will be William Jensen (Philip Wichester), a confident Midwesterner looking to return home a hero, Eddie Beagle (David Ellison), a somewhat dimwitted but friendly fellow without a past, and Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), a black expatriate looking to pay back his newly-adopted homeland which has shown him much more tolerance than the U.S.
These green recruits (there are more that I didn’t mention) are led by cynical veteran Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson) and their French Capitan Thenault (Jean Reno). You might recognize Reno as “that French guy from that movie I saw” since, whether in Ronin, The Pink Panther, or The DaVinci Code that is pretty much his typecast.
As can be predicted, these new recruits quickly learn the horrors of war, as well as a great deal of self discovery. Rawlings even finds himself a nice mademoiselle, Lucienne, played by stunningly beautiful newcomer Jennifer Decker. It’s just too bad he tries to pick her up using French so bad even Marcel Marceau would scream mid-performance.
Tony Bill, in his first time directing, shows great promise. The film has great colors, lighting, and shots. The aerial scenes are really well done in their timing and presentation. Trevor Rabin presents a touching score.
That is why it is such a shame when all this progress — done so well by outright rookies — gets erased by a terrible script. Somewhere floating out in the universe there is an infinite number of monkeys typing away thinking: “We could have done so much better.” With predictable characters, clichéd lines, and plot twists that are as obvious as the Red Baron himself crash landing into Ozzfest. The plot varies from complete happiness and despair so quickly that the viewer isn’t given enough time to appreciate either.
To give an example of the inane writing, Beagle crash-lands in the much-feared No Man’s Land, only to be luckily rescued by Rawlings. Beagle looses his hand, but, through some sort of miracle, he makes himself a hook, learns how to fly again and shoots down Germans (hook and all) boasting “Beware the hook!,” almost causing me to ralph in my popcorn from the literary crap flung from the screen. Even worse, the only good plotline to bless this sorry script — the romance between Rawlings and Lucienne — is mangled by the end of the film.
Flyboys is a simple film that seems to have a lot of potential, from its cast to its director. Still, a boring film is a boring film, and it is certainly not worth the ticket price. Visually stunning? Yes. But if you want to see a film that is fun to watch but lacks a script, it’s probably more enjoyable to shell out your money to watch Jackass Number Two.