Movie Review: 'Flight'

Movie critic Kenneth Turan reviews Flight, starring Denzel Washington. Turan says Washington plays an intriguing — and morally ambivalent — hero.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's hear a review, nex,t of the latest movie starring Denzel Washington. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has been watching "Flight."

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Whip Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington, is introduced lying face down on a hotel room bed; after what has clearly been a night of debauchery, substance abuse, and very little sleep. So it's dismaying to discover that Whitaker is an airline pilot, scheduled to take the controls in a raging thunderstorm that very morning.

But even drugged out, Whitaker can still fly like the Red Baron. When his aircraft inexplicably plummets into an uncontrolled dive and seems headed for unmitigated disaster, Whitaker saves the day.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FLIGHT")

DENZEL WASHINGTON: (as pilot Whip Whitaker) We're going to roll it, OK?

BRIAN GERAGHTY: (as co-pilot Ken Evans) What do you mean, roll it?

WASHINGTON: (as Whip Whitaker) Gotta do something to stop this dive. Here we go. I've got control.

TURAN: Not every single passenger, as it turns out, survives these heroics. And as a defense attorney - played by Don Cheadle - tells the pilot, the question is whether his bravery will be overshadowed by his formidable blood alcohol count.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FLIGHT")

DON CHEADLE: (as Hugh Lang) This toxicology report states that you were drunk. And if it is proven that your intoxication was the cause of the death of the four passengers, now we're going to look at four counts of manslaughter. That could be life in prison.

TURAN: Washington, as always, creates a complex character who is both wary and worried; a man who not only flies airplanes, but is also in flight from his own life. But the story that surrounds him is not as subtle or involving, for though "Flight" could have concerned itself with how to reconcile heroic actions with fallible human qualities, it heads in a more formulaic direction. Can Whip Whitaker stop drinking long enough to avoid becoming his own worst enemy?

None of "Flight's" other characters hold us the way Whitaker does, though fine acting helps bring them alive. Don Cheadle is appropriately spit-and-polished as that attorney; and John Goodman is outrageous - as only John Goodman can be - playing Whitaker's personal Dr. Feelgood.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FLIGHT")

JOHN GOODMAN: (as Harling Mays) What the hell kind of meds they giving you? Aprazolan - that's generic Xanax. Hydrocodone, that's generic Vicodin - probably Canadian. Where's the dihydromorphinal? Is this amateur hour? Get that doctor in here. You just saved a hundred people.

WASHINGTON: (as Whip Whitaker) Harling. You bring my smokes?

TURAN: When all else fails, "Flight" turns to Washington. His ability to convey the agony of a soul in torment, never lets us down even though the film that surrounds him never rises to his heights.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Ken Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION, and for the Los Angeles Times.

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