Opening 10 May 2007
The U.S. has not yet joined World War I in 1916. Still, young American men travel to France to join the Lafayette Escadrille under the command of Captain Thenault (Jean Reno) as pilots in a new type of combat: airplanes. Old-timer Cassidy predicts they’ll survive three to six weeks. They earn their wings and take off in double- and triple-decker planes, which buzz and fly like mosquitoes. They shoot pistols out of open cockpits, wear no parachutes and communicate by means of hand signals like so many cyclists on the streets of Amsterdam. The guys are named Rawlings, Usher, Jensen, Porter, Skinner, Beagle, and Lowry. They are a rancher from Texas, a hay seed from Nebraska, one rich and spoiled softie from New York, a black boxer who speaks French, a former felon, etc. It’s predictable who gets the girl Lucienne, who dies, who loses a hand and flies with a hook, who is a hero, who suffers the shakes, who save his comrade, who is suspected of spying, and who returns home.
Director Tony Bill based the film on a true story or probably a conglomeration of true stories. Sadly, it is slow and predictable, i.e., Top Gun extra, extra light. One star is for the wobbly planes called Bristol, Sopwith, SE5A, or Newport II, which land in any old field as easy as pulling into a drive-in, and the other star is for James Franco, who plays Rawlings as if he were the new Josh Hartnett. (Becky Tan)