October 7, 2004

Ladder 49

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By jonathon hampton Red Letter Daze staff writer I have no choice but to be brutally honest. Ladder 49 is good, but it sure was no Backdraft, nor does it have the storyline dynamics of what I consider to be one of the best TV dramas, the NBC cop/fireman hit, Third Watch. Instead, the plot is unoriginal and fairly predictable. However, even though you might know what”s going to happen next, the suspense is still nerve-racking and the action is intense. First scene, without waiting, there”s a bigass building ablaze — my kind of movie. I love that it shows actual fire. I”m talking serious blazes that would make it worthwhile to buy the DVD just for the behind the scenes footage. If most of it was computer graphics, then I”m highly impressed, because I like to think I have an eye for what is the real deal, and I certainly didn”t catch any blue screen or digital pixel blunders.

The story follows the recollections of fireman Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) through a span of about 10 years in the lives of his Baltimore firefighting crew. This subplot develops, as Jack falls in and out of consciousness, lying almost helplessly amongst the rubble of the aforementioned bigass building. As the men of his company attempt to rescue Jack, his memories take us through training and hazing, injuries and deaths, and also through the complications of balancing a firefighter”s duties to the public with responsibilities to their families.

Of course, no movie like this would be complete without your stereotypical hero names like Jack. There”s also Cap. (Captain Mike Kennedy), played by the perennial John Travolta, who”s the daddy of the crew. Everytime I think Travolta”s career is over, the man comes out with yet another starring role. Well, this one won”t get any Oscar nominations, except maybe for visual and sound effects, but Ladder 49 is enough to keep his career alive. Moving on to the next square-jawed ace, you”ve got Tommy Drake, played by Morris Chestnut (Anacondas, The Brothers), who actually gets a lot of screen time cracking jokes, talking shit, and flaunting his pecs. Actors Billy Burke, Jay Hernandez, and Balthazar Getty are also amongst the cast of heroic heartthrobs. Burke is cocky, cool, and looks sort of like a new and improved version of John Stamos (I know you remember Uncle Jesse from Full House). To remember Getty, think back to the badass kid in Mr. Holland”s Opus; if that doesn”t do it for you, don”t worry, you”ll recognize him on screen — it”s just that none of his various roles were in big-name movies. Oh, and if you like actor Robert Patrick, he”s in there too, but he doesn”t have a cool hero”s name; he”s just Lenny.

Pretty-boys aside, the real hottie of the movie, and the only female star, is Jacinda Barrett. This Australian beauty first gained fame on The Real World: London in 1995, but you might remember her better from the short-lived TV show D.C. on the WB. If you”re like me, though, you didn”t catch either of those. She, by far, did the best acting job in Ladder 49, not a hard feat to accomplish, but done nonetheless.

So what do you have to gain from seeing this movie? Well, you”ll learn how to bust through a brick wall, fall through fire, pick up a chick in a grocery store, dangle from a building, win a drinking contest, and how to not-so-subtly underscore Irish flutes or lutes or pipes. Things you won”t see include saving a cat from a tree, sex, Dalmations, sex, burnt dead people, and … oh yeah, there”s no sex, which is why this film is rated PG-13.

All in all, you might find that Ladder 49 is a little tearjerker. Heartwarming displays of courage and perseverance counterbalance tragedy and gruesomeness. Yup, it”s one of those life-lesson movies, but tailored to the pyromaniac”s liking. Rarely do movies go beyond entertainment and remind you of life, ethics, and honor. Share this feeling with a friend. Otherwise, you won”t have anyone to point out all the cheesy lines to, like, ‘I”m getting too old for this shit,’ and ‘How ya” doin” kid? It”s your first fire. Ready to bust your cherry?’ This blazing blockbuster is cool to watch on the big screen (at the matinee price, of course) so feel free to go burn up some time at the theater.

3 1/2 Stars

Archived article by Jonathon Hampton
Red Letter DAZE Staff Writer