After a decade or so devoted to exploring the possibilities of 3D and motion capture, Robert Zemeckis is making films in the real world with real people. In this case, real people like Captain Whip (Denzel Washington), a debauched, drug fiend, alcoholic, hero pilot.

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Like any film with a plane crash in, Flight will never be part of your on-board entertainment package, but no film does quite as much to instil a fear of flying than this.

It suggests that the average commercial airline is a rattling crate held together by ancient parts that haven’t been serviced for years and your fate is in the hands of a pilot, who is still so sloshed from the previous night’s revelries that he isn’t fazed by plummeting straight towards the earth and, while everybody else is screaming, comes up with a miracle manoeuvre to save the plane.

It is as if Hunter S Thompson had taken Luke Skywalker’s place in the cockpit at the end of Star Wars and destroyed the Death Star.

The opening air crash sequence is indeed petrifying but that is over in the first half hour and after that it’s just a heap of sanctimonious chat, which might have worked out if any of it was halfway credible but Zemeckis seems to have lost his feel for convincing characters.

The clumsiness of the story telling is hammered home by some blunt music choices.

Goodman’s character – Whip’s drug buddy – is introduced by the opening bars of The Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, and when a woman prepares to shoot up the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under the Bridge strikes up.

Zemeckis is a great fun filmmaker (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump) but, at some point, he found God or found the need to discuss God and, whenever he tries to go a bit deeper, he ends up doing something foolish.

Major spoiler – at one point, the caricature Christian couple suggest that the plane crash was all part of God’s plan, served a higher purpose. The audience is invited to laugh at, or at least pour scorn on them, but ultimately the plot backs them up – more than a hundred people suffer a traumatising plane crash and six people die just to get Washington’s character on the wagon.

FLIGHT (15)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, John Goodman and Melissa Leo

Length: 135 mins

**

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