Problems with takeoff

Flyboys attempts to soar onto the silver screen, but it drops faster than a flaming Nieuport.

The film takes place during the first world war, and follows the adventures of the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of American fighter pilots who volunteered to help the French before the U.S. officially became involved in the conflict. Based on true events, director Tony Bill attempts to depict the dangers these pilots faced in an age when aircraft where brand new and wholly unreliable. At a time when most people had never even seen a plane, others killed Germans with them.

While it’s refreshing to see a movie based on WWI, which often gets overlooked for its bigger, badder brother, upon leaving the theatre it’s not hard to guess why. The problems start at the beginning and don’t stop until the end. The exposition is handled quickly–a bunch of names being thrown at the audience without care for coherence. While this technique has its place in action-oriented flicks, it makes it hard to keep track of who’s who. Furthermore, the brisk intro makes it tough to develop a sufficient background for most of the men. It’s ultimately forgivable, as it helps avoid making a painfully long movie even longer, but with no backstory, there’s no sense of attachment to the characters, and when they die it’s hard to care. But with some of the terrible acting that’s going on, audiences will find themselves rooting for the Germans anyway.

The ensemble cast is led by James Franco as Blaine Rawlings, the young orphan upstart with no fear and an unquenchable sense of adventure, and the cliched characters go on from there. There’s the rich young aristocrat who is pressured by the father he hates to sign up and prove his worth, the guy who joined the war to escape a shady past, the religious one, the black boxer hoping to get out of the limelight and the angry veteran who has to school all the young bloods in the ways of war. They’re all there, and none stand out. After all the cheesy dialogue and uninspired performances, the last moments of the film feel like an icepack on a burn.

On top of the abhorent characterization, Bill couldn’t seem to find the balance between action and the watered-down love story that unfolds throughout. Despite the flaws, the dog fights are well choreographed, and it’s really interesting to see the limitations that early aviators had to work with, whether it’s flying unreliable aircraft or carefully removing their goggles before impact to save their eyes from glass shards. The prospect of action is sweet, but the dog fights are few and far between, and the long gaps are filled with lots of sap. It’s okay to see the young lovers try to overcome their language barrier and bond with each other for a while, but is it to much to ask that in a movie about fighter pilots there could be some more shit blowing up?

For any aviation enthusiast or history buff who wants to see some classic planes in action, this isn’t the worst film on earth. For anyone looking for a movie to bring their sweetheart to that’ll fulfill her need for mushy crap while not boring them off their ass, Flyboys is like brushing your teeth with a propeller.

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