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Genre: Action
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
: Tony Bill
Starring: James Franco, Jean Reno, Philip Winchester, David Ellison, Martin Henderson, Jennifer Decker
Released by: MGM

In Short: This predictable tale of the real-life Americans who flew for the French in World War I has exciting dogfights, but is shot down by its hackneyed script.

Failure to Soar
War, Simplified
by Jenny Peters

The true tale of the American men who volunteered to fight for France as fighter pilots against the Germans in World War I (before America actually entered the fight) certainly must be filled with all the elements that could have made a great movie. Unfortunately, “Flyboys” doesn’t tell that story. Instead, director Tony Bill pulls out every possible tired cliché of the war-film genre, right down to the golden boy hero (played by James Franco) who finds romance in the midst of the fray, the proud black man fighting for respect, the tormented veteran flying ace, and the shell-shocked coward who (surprise!) redeems himself with bravery in the final moments.

Even worse, Bill takes more than two hours to unfold the platoon of stock characters, a group of mostly misfits who have chosen the Lafayette Escadrille air corps as a place to escape their unhappy lives back home. There’s the rich boy whose daddy doesn’t understand him, the bumbling thief on the run from the law; you fill in the rest of the rote roll call. It’s Screenwriting 101 on celluloid, with every cliché played out as predictably as the sun shining in Southern California.

Feelings of "I’ve seen this all before" will dissipate, however, when the dogfights finally begin. At least when the pilots take to the skies, the movie takes off. Stunning special effects make those various battle scenes seem very real, as the one-man, open-cockpit planes zip, flip, and hammer each other with hails of bullets. One sequence involving a zeppelin is particularly effective, despite its cornball climax between our hero and his German rival.

But good battle scenes do not a great war film make; real themes and complex characters facing life-or-death situations do, and “Flyboys” is woefully lacking in either of those. For the real thing, try renting Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory.” Now that is a cinematic look at World War I that you will never forget.


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