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Denzel Washington in 'Flight' (+trailer)

Some elements don't quite coalesce, but 'Flight' is a pretty good nail-biter.

'Flight' trailer
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The people who made “Flight” have done a courageous thing. With all the potential revenue to be had from in-flight movie sales, they have made a movie that is guaranteed to never be shown on an airplane.

Denzel Washington plays Capt. Whip Whit­aker, a former Navy ace who now works as an airline pilot. Despite drinking and substance abuse problems, he’s still an ace in the sky, as demonstrated by the film’s terrific opening set piece. After navigating some turbulence, he is jolted from his cockpit nap when a mechanical malfunction hurtles the plane earthward. It’s grace-under-pressure time, and Whip manages to successfully crash land and survive along with most of the crew and passengers.

But lawyers and insurance companies are bearing down, and before long, media hero Whip’s history of alcoholism begins to figure into the official investigation of the accident.

The dilemma posed here is that Whip, although technically drunk, was able to land the plane and save more than 100 lives despite a malfunction that had nothing to do with him. And yet, he clearly poses a lethal safety risk in the air. With the help of a trusted union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a sharp lawyer (Don Cheadle), can he – should he – lie his way out of the investigation and avoid prison?

Director Robert Zemeckis, working from a screenplay by John Gatins, has been loitering in the creepy motion-capture vineyards for a long time: “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” are not likely to rank high alongside his “Back to the Future” films or “Forrest Gump” or “Cast Away.” Mixed bag though “Flight” is, I’m glad he’s back with live-action drama.

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