From the Stargate and ID4 producer… here comes FLYBOYS
When Dean Devlin announced he was going to launch an independently financed World War I picture it raised a lot of eyebrows in Hollywood. The hotshot producer responsible for smash hits like Stargate and Independence Day put a great deal of funding into the computer generated effects of Flyboys to ensure a realistic portrayal of the intense WWI dogfights the first generation of American pilots were quickly thrust into. Too bad the visual effects wizardry that wowed us in Devlin’s past productions has become passe; an audience needs more than just flashy effects to tide them over for a picture with a running time longer than two hours. Flyboys is not the engrossing war epic Devlin and audiences may have hoped for, in fact the film is painfully mediocre.
It is one thing to have an exciting action film with engrossing and beautiful special effects, but if there is nothing behind the images flickering on the screen the picture provides little motivation for the audience to let themselves become immersed in the story. This is exactly what happens with the Tony Bill directed Flyboys. Primarily a television director with the exception of a few, smaller eighties films like My Bodyguard, it was obvious that Bill was overwhelmed with the visual effects extravaganza Devlin had in mind. With director Roland Emmerich, Devlin’s usual collaborator, probably out of the picture’s price range the producer turned towards Bill to lead the troops into battle. Sadly for Flyboys the director takes such a bland approach to the film that very little stands out.
To call Bill’s direction of the film safe would be an understatement. Not pushing the envelope in any aspect other than visual effects, Flyboys becomes one of the dullest action films in recent memory. With a film based on an exceptional group of young men, one might hope to learn who they were and why they chose to risk their lives. What Flyboys provides is a series of soggy, cardboard cutout caricatures that are so poorly developed it becomes difficult to distinguish one fighter pilot from the other. With the amount of movies I have to sit through I like to think that I am at least competent enough to follow who is who in a movie. With Flyboys I was completely baffled. Sure James Franco isn’t the greatest actor in the world, but when he blends in with all the other side characters you have to feel he might not be leading male material.
As far as acting goes the only member of the team who showed any real chops was Abdul Salis, who plays an African American who is using the French air force as a way to combat racism. Some of the most interesting scenes involve the interaction between Salis’ character and the rest of his white squadron. Unfortunately for Salis as good as his performance is, everyone else surrounding him is excruciatingly bland. Heck even Jean Reno manages to do absolutely nothing interesting for the entire duration of Flyboys!
Franco’s character, Blaine Rawlings, might have one of the coolest names ever in movie history, but the actor’s performance helps rank the leading role amongst the most unmemorable too. Letting alone the fact that Franco is sporting blonde highlights in an early twentieth century period piece, there is nothing that stands out about Franco’s performance aside from his constant squinty eyed, constipated stares. His love story with a young French maid is tepid at best. His rivalries amongst fellow squadron members are uneventful, and even his confrontation with the enemy planes seem devoid of any excitement.
Interestingly enough there is a rather copious nod to a film from the past in Flyboys, Jean Renoir’s “The Grand Illusion”. The 1930s French highlighted the fact that World War I was a gentlemen’s war, and in the beautiful dogfights in Flyboys this chivalrous fighting was not forgotten. Pilots seemingly respect one another in these spectacular airborne battles, only taking their prey in a fair fight. After awhile though this constant pause in fighting for the two fliers to acknowledge each other becomes a bit tedious, and with Franco’s limited acting range, they become a bit silly too.
Perhaps the only scene that really stands out in the film is one that feels like it is in the wrong movie. When German troops invade the home of Franco’s love interest director Tony Bill switches the style of the film from a dull, sweeping epic to that of an intense thriller or horror film. Surprisingly enough it is the only scene in the film that manages to get any bit of rise out the audience, even more so than the finale which should have been accompanied by a rousing crescendo of cheers, but instead was met with deafening silence.
Flyboys could have been a dream fulfilled for aviation fans around the world. Not since Hell’s Angels has such a grand, special effects laden World War I epic been attempted. It is just too bad Flyboys sputters out miserably. While most of the film will fly right out of your brain after leaving the theaters I am still trying to wrap my mind around why Torque star Martin Henderson walks around Flyboys with a computer generated lion. Even with this perplexing mystery Dean Devlin should have probably considered another systems check before launching the production of Flyboys, because what ended up on screen was nothing but a bunch of filmmakers working on autopilot.
– Joe Russo, MoviePulse