Pin It

Too Soggy 

by Ed Symkus

Let's hear it for a film that wants to put its story on track from the get-go. This firefighter drama starts with a big conflagration, loads up the screen with terrifying explosions within a big building, and before a few minutes have gone by, has its lead firefighter, Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) trapped inside.

It's a great beginning, but even though there's plenty of action, some original fiery effects, generally good acting, and a high degree of tension, there are too many misjudgments in putting the film together to keep it from being entirely engrossing.

The motif of jumping back and forth in time -- from Jack's current predicament to a series of events over the previous decade - works well. Director Jay Russell (Tuck Everlasting) has fashioned a successful method of combining the then and now by fading to black each time the film shifts between them.

The first flashback goes to Jack's first day on the job, when he arrives at the station as a probationary firefighter, or proby. John Travolta's entrance as Chief Kennedy is a funny, disheveled one, but it's not long before a wealth of serious information about the business is shared with viewers. It's explained that more than 4,000 calls a year come in to this busy Baltimore station. A lesson is given on the difference between a "pipeman" and a "truckie." And the film goes for realism: hard, fast breathing is heard; panicky running is seen; rats show up in the middle of smoky confusion. Hand-held camerawork takes viewers right into the chaos of a fire. And when the action gets going, multiple cameras are moving around, seldom staying still for more than a few seconds.

The main story involves Jack's dilemma. The chief calmly tells his crew to "get your asses in there and find him." The plan is to use blueprints to figure out where he is in the building, but even if they knew the exact point, there's still a fire raging above while he's somewhere down below.

In the flashbacks, the atmosphere is mostly much lighter -- the firefighters show off their skill at downing liquor after a hard day, they play pranks on each other, a pick-up scene in a supermarket leads to Jack's marriage to Linda (Jacinda Barrett), a backyard family barbecue looks like a Pepsi commercial. But there's an equal amount of melodrama and clich & eacute;s thrown in, too -- a firefighter parade, a pregnancy, some marital strife because out of the blue, after many years, Linda suddenly starts freaking out over the dangers of the job.

Even the acting suffers a little when Travolta, in a supporting role, overdoes it while shouting to maintain control of his men during one flashback. But the opposite is true in a tender scene with Phoenix and newcomer Spencer Berglund, who plays his son Nick, where the two talk quietly about the pitfalls of a firefighter's life. In fact, before it's all over, a body count has built up. This turns into a horror film with fire as the monster, ever ready to grab an unsuspecting victim.

The story could have ended in a variety of ways. The one chosen could be unpopular with mainstream audiences. Suffice it to say, things get maudlin. If that isn't bad enough, it's followed up by a sequence featuring a soggy, anthemic pop song that's supposed to smooth things over. It's a mistake that only makes the ending worse.

Publication date: 09/30/04

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Buried in the Headlines
  • Buried in the Headlines

    Big stories largely ignored by the mainstream media
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • A Sense 
of Détente
  • A Sense of Détente

    In only two months, the seemingly intractable battle between mayor and council has turned into an exuberant truce
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Not Green Enough
  • Not Green Enough

    State says no carbon exemption for Spokane Waste-to-Energy Plant; plus, settlement reached in Priest River high school football concussion lawsuit
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Spokane Social Sketch

Spokane Social Sketch @ Boots Bakery & Lounge

Last Sunday of every month, 2-5 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Ed Symkus

  • Ode to <i>Joy</i>-less
  • Ode to Joy-less

    This reviewer really, really doesn't like Jennifer Lawrence
    • Dec 23, 2015
  • Winning Reboot
  • Winning Reboot

    Somehow, Arnold's return to the Terminator franchise makes for solid sci-fi
    • Jul 1, 2015
  • Dog of a Story
  • Dog of a Story

    Max wastes a promising idea on forgettable characters
    • Jun 24, 2015
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Defending North Idaho

    Why Heather Scott must go
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • The Do-Over

    After failing to pass a bus service tax hike last year, Spokane Transit Authority has a plan to get you to vote for it again
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


green zone


trail mix

Readers also liked…

  • Hopeless for Heroin
  • Hopeless for Heroin

    As heroin deaths continue to rise in Washington state, what can a parent do to save a child from the depths of addiction?
    • Jul 29, 2015
  • Whitman Privilege
  • Whitman Privilege

    Why Walla Walla's Whitman College has come under fire for having so few low-income students
    • Apr 22, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation