One review for Flyboys, this week’s entry in the “inspired by a true story” genre of filmmaking, asked what’s wrong with making an old-fashioned, feel-good war movie. And while there’s no arguing with the fact that Flyboys accomplishes just that, when your film is cliched, hokey and, in some cases, downright irresponsible, then it’s safe to say that at least a few things miss the mark.
Flyboys attempts to tell the story of the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of American fighter pilots who fought for the French Air Service during World War I, before the United States had entered the war. By all accounts, the Escadrille was created by the French as an effort to goad Woodrow Wilson, as well as the American public, into joining the war effort. Of course, for the sake of being safely antiquated, director Tony Bill (A Home of Our Own) and the film’s three credited screenwriters never question the morality behind this, nor do they address a number of other issues that could have been explored, making the film feel inconsequential and much like a missed opportunity.
The members of the Escadrille are purely paper-thin war-movie cliches. Each of them has one identifying characteristic that makes him unique (the rich kid who’s also a racist, the man who really is — doesn’t seem to be — all he says he is) and nothing more, until the predetermined point in the script where they either do something heroic or learn the errors of their ways. Even James Franco (Spider-Man 2), in the lead role as All-American boy Blaine Rawlings (can a name get more American than that?) isn’t given more than a couple of lines of back-story to flesh out his character. And while Franco (who a friend of mine claims is “dreamy,” but comes off as dopey here) does a decent job, he continues to show that he cannot carry a film on his own. Of course, he isn’t helped by the cornball, ham-fisted dialogue he’s given.
The main attraction, however is not supposed to be the acting or the plot, but rather the action. While the film should gain points simply for not being another World War II movie, the dogfights lack energy and any kind of personality. They look and feel more like a small scale, low-tech battle from a Star Wars film (in one sequence, you can substitute a zeppelin for the Death Star and the token menacing German bad guy, “The Black Falcon” (Gunner Windbergh, Millions) for Darth Vader, and you almost get the end of Episode IV). Even the score in these scenes takes on a sub-John Williams feel.
This brings us to the film’s composer, Trevor Rabin, who, when he isn’t dealing in contrived bravado, is covering every inch of the film in schmaltz and syrup (if this movie was a stack of pancakes, Rabin would be Mrs. Butterworth). When Rabin’s sentimental score is playing over footage of bombs being dropped or a German pilot being shot in the head, it sends an odd message that reeks of jingoism. Depending on how intentional Bill was in this matter, it’s at best lazy; at worst, it’s offensive.
In the film’s defense, it’s competently made and its 139-minute running time somehow manages not to feel that long. However, it’s too slight and corny to ever really be more than a disposable movie. Rated PG-13 for war-action violence and some sexual content.
– reviewed by Justin Souther