I rolled the dice for all of 99 cents at the thrift store the other day for a used DVD of FLYBOYS (2006). I watched it yesterday afternoon.
It's not a bad movie. It's not a good movie. It's a stunningly average, just slightly above mediocre movie. The visual effects are far and away the best thing about this film. The worst? The tired, oh-so-predictable screenplay (by Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans and David S. Ward) that somehow manages to cram every war movie cliché you've ever seen into the film's 138 minute running time.
I have to admit it, I'm a sucker for WWI aviation material. Joe Kubert's masterful ENEMY ACE comic book stories that he did for DC back in the 1960s brilliantly captured the air war over France and Germany between 1914 and 1917. THE BLUE MAX (1966), which I recently watched and reviewed here on my blog, is a fine film. But to this day, the absolute best WWI flying movie is still the now 88-year-old silent epic, WINGS (1927). To see that magnificent film on the big screen with a live orchestra (as Judy and I had the pleasure of doing at the Paramount Theatre a few years back) is to simultaneously have your spirit soar and your heart broken. If you've never seen WINGS, you must do so the first chance you get.
FLYBOYS, which is loosely based on a true story, stars the ubiquitous James Franco (straining mightily to channel James Dean and failing mightily in the process) and a bunch of young, unknown actors as Americans who join the French Lafayette Escadrille in 1916, before the U.S. entered the conflict. The film shows them arriving in France, going through flight school (such as it was at that early date) and eventually going into battle in the war torn skies.
The guessing game of who will live and who will die begins immediately because, this being a true story war film, you just know that not all of these guys will make it. Not even the one who has (inexplicably) a pet lion. Wait, what?
Someone will lose his nerve. Someone will be redeemed. James Franco will fall in love with a fetching young French farm girl (Jennifer Decker), a luminous beauty who reminds me of a cross between Andie McDowell and Elizabeth McGovern.
But let's face it. You paid your money (even 99 cents) to see a WWI movie called FLYBOYS and all you really want to see are dogfights between French biplanes and red German Fokker tri-wings (including the ominous black plane dubbed the Black Falcon). Oh yeah, and zeppelins. There's a hell of a good battle sequence involving a zeppelin, a doomed aircraft design that I have always found fascinating.
The dogfights play like a video game, the planes buzzing and whizzing, twisting and turning, diving and climbing, machine guns spitting death. It's good (but not great) CGI stuff but it's not enough to lift the rest of the film from the mud pit of mediocrity it's mired in.
FLYBOYS is a handsomely produced film. The cinematography by Henry Braham gives everything the amber glow of times gone by while the score by Trevor Rabin is sometimes stirring, sometimes obtrusive (does every contemporary film have to have a continuously running musical score?).
You could do worse than spending an afternoon watching FLYBOYS. But you could also do a hell of a lot better. Like WINGS. Go watch it. Right now.