Retro Review: Flight of the Phoenix

Stranded and drinking the sweat for your soaking bandana. Feeling the heat rip apart your body as you struggle to breathe. Then you turn to watch a gust of sand rip across the entire world you know. Welcome to the Gobi Desert. Survival? Unlikely.

This is the world that a group of survivors encounter as they are flung into a fight to survive after their plane goes down in one of the most deadly deserts known to man.

The man who put them there is Captain Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid), a pilot who specializes in taking jobs no one else dares tackle. This time his mission was to evacuate a group of oil employees stranded in the Mongolian Desert after their company pulled the plug on their project.

Towns must face off against the scrutiny of his passengers including oil executive Ian (Hugh Laurie), the spunky Kelly (Miranda Otto) and the “nerd-from-hell” Elliot (Giovanni Ribisi), who has a vision of sculpting a new airplane from the wreckage after he says he is an airplane designer.

Will the ragtag group of survivors bond together long enough to find out? How many will succumb to the horrendous desert elements?

Ok, this isn’t the 1965 classic of the same name that starred Jimmy Stewart, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Attenborough. The ’65 classic was also written by brilliant screenwriter Lukas Heller who also gave such classics as “The Dirty Dozen”, “What Happened to Baby Jane?” and “Too Late the Hero”.

This version of the classic is more in the vain of an adventure-survival film kind of like “Hidalgo” from earlier this year.

Dennis Quaid’s resilient yet sometimes sarcastic pilot reminded me a lot of a TV series I used to watch as a kid. The show was one of those “Indiana Jones” knock-offs that spawned in the early to mid 1980s.

The show I am talking about was “Tales of the Gold Monkey” that starred Stephen Collins as Jake Cutter, a renegade pilot who ran a cargo plane out of a remote port in the South Pacific in 1938. The show was a lot of fun and Quaid’s performance made so many good memories of that series come sprawling back.

Quaid is the perfect choice for this role and does a brilliant job as the film’s central character. His resurgence since “The Rookie” has been such an amazing ride for the actor.

The only actor who probably out shines Quaid in a lot of key scenes is Giovanni Ribisi, who is practically unrecognizable in his blonde crew cut. Ribisi eats up scenes like a lawnmower as his maybe “Nazi”, maybe “hyper-nerd” development of the character gives Quaid’s quintessential hero figure a run for his money.

The film itself pays homage to the original but never tries to assume the same mantle. The film is basically just a fun action-adventure film that is sure to delight a lot action genre fans. It is just plain cinematic fun.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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