Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
We've heard a lot about obnoxious passengers, but very little about intoxicated pilots. That's why you're not likely to see this terrifying chronicle of an aviation disaster while flying on any carrier.
Charismatic "Whip" Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a commercial pilot who not only carouses all night with a compliant flight attendant (Nadine Velazquez), but also snorts cocaine and fortifies himself with booze after takeoff. Nevertheless, he's so skilled that when his Jackson-Ridgefield 88 Passenger Jet, headed from Orlando to Atlanta, encounters extreme turbulence during a massive storm, he steers the plane into clearing sky. But then, inexplicably, the hydraulics system fails, along with other mechanical malfunctions, sending SouthJet flight 227 into a nosedive. Determined to regain control, Whip inverts the aircraft, ingeniously allowing it to glide upside down until he can make a crash landing, miraculously saving all but six of the 102 aboard. That's the harrowing beginning.
Hailed a hero, Whip faces extensive questioning as the NTSB investigates the cause of the crash -- while pilot union representative Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenberg) and lawyer Huey Lang (Don Cheadle) work to nullify Whip's incriminating toxicology report.
Recovering in the hospital, Whip immediately summons his drug dealer (scene-stealing John Goodman). Sneaking into a stairwell for a smoke, Whip befriends Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a heroin-junkie who's determined to fight her substance-abuse problem. Homeless, she moves in with Whip when he seeks refuge at his crop-dusting father's old farm. Divorced from his wife and alienated from his teenage son, Whip cannot turn to family for support, so a romantic relationship begins. The pacing of their lengthy melodrama and the abrupt, barely credible conclusion are the film's weaknesses.
Scripted by John Gatins, long before Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger's Hudson River landing, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, this character-driven thriller brings Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump," "Cast Away") back from motion-capture animation ("The Polar Express"). And Denzel Washington could be in Oscar contention as the deeply conflicted addict who's heavily into denial.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Flight" is an intense, serious 7, redefining "flying high."
"We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea," intones Gerard Butler, introducing the true, tragic story of Jay Moriarty, an intrepid surfer who survived a 1994 wipeout that landed him on the cover of Surfer magazine, only to die in 2001 in a free-diving accident in the Maldives, one day before his 23rd birthday.
Blustery Butler plays rugged California surfing daredevil Rick "Frosty" Hesson, who reluctantly agrees to train, mentor his guileless yet determined, wave-riding 15-year-old Santa Cruz neighbor, Jay Moriarty (newcomer Jonny Weston), to get him -- mentally and physically -- prepared in only 12 weeks to ride some of the most gigantic waves on Earth: the monster, mythic Mavericks at Half Moon Bay during El Nino.
Filmmaker Michael Apted, who directed "Gorillas in the Mist," "Coal Miner's Daughter" and created the "Seven Up" documentary series, came in to take over from director Curtis Hanson, best known for "L.A. Confidential" and "8 Mile," when Hanson became ill during the shooting.
Utilizing the skill of cinematographer Bill Pope and a group of fearless stunt doubles, they manage to capture spectacular open-ocean footage but no one can rise above the generic, formulaic script by screenwriter Kario Salem ("Don King: Only in America," "The Rat Pack"), based on a story by producers/surfing enthusiasts Jim Meenaghan and Brandon Hooper. The overly-reverential screenplay touches on but never delves into perseverant Jay's absentee father, perpetually stressed-out/alcoholic single mom (Elisabeth Shue), best buddy (Devin Crittenden), attractive fiancee/wife (Leven Rambin) and wealthy bully/drug dealer (Taylor Handley) -- while Chad Fischer's musical score clearly punctuates every mood change.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Chasing Mavericks" floats in with a bland, uninspiring 5, narrowly avoiding a wipeout.
Southern Gothic to its core, this murky, interracial melodrama follows a crusading Miami Times reporter, Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), who returns to his swampy hometown of Lately, Fla., to join his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) to uncover the truth about a slimy, death-row killer. They're joined by Ward's writing assistant, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), when it seems that an alligator hunter Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) might have been wrongly convicted of killing a seedy sheriff. During the course of this investigation, Jack is seduced by the racist convict's salacious pen-pal fiancee, an aging floozy named Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman, in a grotesque, peroxide blond wig).
Based on his pulpy 1995 novel, Pete Dexter co-wrote the script with director Lee Daniels ("Precious: based on the Novel `Push' by Sapphire"), introducing the lurid plot with an interview with the family's maid, Anita Chester (Macy Gray), who not only delivers a retrospective of what happened but contributes a husky, voice-over commentary throughout the indulgently episodic narrative -- courting danger, deceit and betrayal.
While Kidman's public urination upon Efron briefly ignited some sensationalist tabloid fever, it's actually an appropriate treatment for jellyfish stings and not as shocking as one might think, given the circumstances. That cannot be said for Cusack's autoeroticism, S&M gang rape and animal mutilation -- photographed by cinematographer Roberto Schaefer through a grainy, hazy filter.
African-American filmmaker Lee Daniels has made no secret of that fact that he's gay, and how this social-consciousness obviously influences not only his choice of provocative, racially tense subject matter but also his raunchy, non-traditional perspective, favoring a multitude of erotic, overwrought scenes of Zac Efron, clad only in his white underpants.
Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to10, "The Paperboy" is a tacky, tawdry 2. It's scummy, sexploitation sleaze.