Russia is no stranger to action films, with notable titles including Nochnoy Dozor (aka Night Watch), Hardcore Henry and Chernaya Molniya (aka Black Lightning). Their aesthetic is unmistakable, with rich, dark textures and gloomy atmospheres, and they often provide alleviation from the generic fodder that populate our screens. One of the latest Russian action offerings is Flight Crew (aka Ekipazh), director Nikolay Lebedev’s (Legend No. 17) remake of a 1979 film of the same name.
A young pilot is dismissed from the military when he refuses to follow orders to abandon humanitarian cargo in favour of a wealthy diplomat’s haul of luxury cars. Our hero then finds himself as a co-pilot for a major Russian airline, and his arrogance is put to the test during a major catastrophe when his flight is diverted to a rescue mission on an island in the midst of an earthquake and volcanic eruption.
This is an extravagant Russian disaster film that bursts on to the screen with the confidence of a Hollywood blockbuster, but with none of the competence of Hollywood’s better blockbusters. With a rigid and simplistic script, the story unfolds with a complete lack of spark and meanders for almost an hour before anything interesting actually happens.
It’s fascinating how so much time, which should have been allocated to exposition, has been squandered on two-dimensional characters and their uninteresting lives. A series of inconsequential and insipid events mire the film and test the viewer’s patience. From cheeky flirtations to family troubles, we’re given a glimpse into the lives of pilots, which bare very little significance to the impending catastrophe that is about to unfold.
And when the action finally arrives, it is slathered on thick and doesn’t relent until the final frame. Lava spills and flames roar as terrified people attempt to flee the inferno. And as if to compensate for the first half of melodrama, the whole fiasco plays out like an orchestrated theme park attraction. The Earth cracks open with such precision that it threatens to retract back into place at any moment (ready for another take), and planes explode for no reason whatsoever – they just pop! To add insult to injury, all of it is accompanied by a contrived score that only knows two extremes: quiet and loud.
What Flight Crew does have going for it is somewhat decent cinematography and some genuinely inventive disaster sequences. The camera pans and tracks effortlessly throughout the action to make the most of the film’s setting and molten lava oozes into frame as cars weave in and out of peril.
Sadly, no amount of leniency can save the movie from what it is: a droll and lacklustre affair. And were it to be given a lazy English dub, could easily be mistaken for something out of “mockbuster”-churning production company The Asylum.
THE REEL SCORE: 2/10
Screening at the 2016 Russian Resurrection Film Festival.