Flyboys

September, 2006, Thriller

Directed by:Tony Bill

Starring:James Franco</br>Martin Henderson</br>Jean Reno</br>Jennifer Decker and David Ellison</br>Tyler Labine</br>Abdul Salis

Poor Tony Bill; having achieved stunning initial success as a producer with The Sting in 1973 and then as a freshman director with the modest but interesting My Bodyguard seven years later, this actor/director, (much seen on television) has seen his subsequent career efforts hover consistently at the workman-like level. At least until now that is; after sitting through this uninspiring depiction of American pilots serving with the French in the early days of WW 1, audiences should be forgiven if they give up on Mr. Bill's directorial talents altogether. Never has such a potentially intriguing subject been handled with such grinding mediocrity.

The material certainly has the potential for an exciting film; the real-life exploits of American volunteers who flew for the French in 1916-17, before the U.S. entered the war and absorbed them into American units stationed there. In all, 265 Yanks served in The Lafayette Escadrille, suffering a combat death toll of nearly 1 in 5. Its members flew in significant engagements across Western Europe, amassing a disproportionate number of military honors in the process. Surely a rousing movie could be fashioned from these near-legendary accomplishments? 

Perhaps, but you won't find them here; a wooden James Franco, (Spiderman 2, Annapolis) heads a cast of largely unknown thespians in draining all the energy out of what surely must have been a collection of individually interesting daredevils. Flying without parachutes in contraptions made of wood, canvas and paint, these early aces should have provided screenwriters Phil Sears & Blake Evans with enough opportunities for character development to fill a dozen scripts, but their lines, (i.e. "This country is so beautiful, no wonder the French are willing to die for it.") are so leaden even far more skilled actors would have trouble breathing any life into them. (The accomplished leading man Jean Reno plays the unit's French commander; even he's trapped by the film's ploddingly banal dialogue.) Even decent attention to period detail in the movie's props, sets and costumes can't sustain the viewer's attention in the face of plot's predictable developments, (wartime romance, battle fatigue, the veteran leader who dies at hands of a despicable Hun) nor excuse the asinine climatic battle which involves dispatching an opponent with a pistol in the midst of a dogfight. 

Flyboy's antique bi and tri-winged flying machines are great to look at, but the movie's greatest sin comes in its scenes of aerial combat; computer-generated special effects have become so sophisticated that today's audiences can legitimately demand some level of authenticity in their deployment, but the action sequences here are so awkwardly amateurish they rob the movie of any excitement it might otherwise have created.  

Verdict? Turkeys can't fly…and neither does Flyboys.

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