We gave it a C+
This docudrama is based on the 1989 air disaster in which a passenger flight from Denver to Chicago made an emergency landing at a small airport in Sioux City, Iowa; 186 of the plane’s 296 passengers survived the crash landing. (You probably remember this horrific event from the videotaped footage that was seen widely and repeatedly on the news.) Director Lamont Johnson (The Kennedys of Massachusetts) and screenwriter Harve Bennett (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) have chosen to emphasize the heroic actions of the Sioux City residents who helped rescue the passengers from the wreckage. Crash Landing is structured around the uneasy alliance between Gary Brown (Richard Thomas), the aggressive young director of Woodbury County’s Disaster and Emergency Services, and Jim Hathaway (James Coburn), the old-pro chief of the Air National Guard Fire Station.
For much of Crash Landing, Brown and Hathaway do little more than snipe at each other’s efficiency, or lack of it — Brown finds Hathaway too slow and old-fashioned; Hathaway refers to Brown as a ”big-mouthed yuppie.” This is tiresome. And, despite the incalculable real-life heroism of the aircraft’s captain, Al Haynes, so are the scenes of Charlton Heston, as Haynes, wrestling with the controls of his plane.
Crash Landing‘s most effective section is its last third, when director Johnson stages many elaborate scenes that teem with rescue workers scattering all over the airfield, searching through broken plane parts for survivors. This footage, shot at the actual location in Sioux City, is emotionally compelling without being melodramatic or exploitive of the tragedy. C+