In the movie desert, where moral absolutes go to die, nothing is black or white — only shades of taupe. This is the backdrop for Flight of the Phoenix, a fuel-injected remake of the meditative 1965 original, and it’s a testament to the verve of ex?commercial director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) that a movie so very beige — in its schematic character and story objectives, as well as its color scheme — could end up so surprisingly vivid.
The first Flight starred an aging Jimmy Stewart as the guilt-plagued captain of a twin-engine transport downed in the Sahara. Here, a considerably less anguished Dennis Quaid is ferrying castoffs from an abandoned oil rig (”zeros,” we’re told, who ”hitched a ride with the trash”) when a sandstorm forces him to crash-land (with a spectacular, thrashing force that leaves you nicely off balance) in the pitiless Gobi, seen here as an infinite existential wasteland, where losing oneself is a cruelly simple affair. The ragtag band includes Giovanni Ribisi’s brainiac, an androidal but weirdly needy man-child who just might know how to scrape together a new plane from the wreckage of the old one — or might just be a very blond loon. Dehydrated philosophizing runs high, but Flight is foremost an action picture. Refreshingly, it’s actually about action, albeit arbitrary action, and how it defines us and keeps us alive. But does arbitrariness excuse the use of OutKast’s thoroughly depleted ”Hey Ya!” in a dorky montage? No, my friends, it does not.