Much like an illicit drug, Flight begins with a flurry and turns in to a droning comedown. In the first 20 or so minutes of the film, commercial airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), rolls over next to a nude flight attendant, drinks the remainder of a beer from the night before, snorts cocaine and then proceeds to the airport where he saves the lives of almost 100 people on board thanks to a complex maneuver that almost no other pilot could pull off when his plane becomes destined to crash.
Gripping action isn't the main course on offer here, and that's part of the problem. Rather, it's an appetizer -- and a quite tasty one -- meant to get you invested in Whitaker's long-term fate. He survives the crash and is hailed as a hero after which it becomes clear (only to us, the viewers) that he is an addict of the highest order. Whitaker's supreme talent as a pilot gives him a veritable legion of enablers, making his downward spiral -- his insipid lies -- that much more deep and severe.
To carry on with the dinner analogy, I just wasn't very interested in this entree. A character study of an alcoholic, albeit a brilliant one? Isn't that what Behind the Music is for? I love director Robert Zemeckis, who made his return to live action with Flight after almost a decade doing mo-cap, and Washington turns in a reliably excellent if not exactly range-stretching performance, but neither seemed to be challenging themselves with this heavy-handed adaptation of a 12-step program brochure.
There's also this: Flight, probably unintentionally so, is a bit subversive when it comes to its drugs-are-bad-m'kay message. Great pains are taken to point out that only Whip Whitaker was capable of the maneuver that saved so many of his passengers. He's brilliant, yes, but also remarkably cool under pressure -- loose, you might even say. You could make an argument, as I am, that he wouldn't have been quite so cool without that bump of cocaine and the three mini-bottles of vodka he dumped in to his orange juice before takeoff. Drugs are bad, kids, unless they save 96 people from assured destruction, I guess.