A period drama from producer Dean Devlin ("Independence Day") and director Tony Bill, "Flyboys" is a period drama starring James Franco ("Spider-Man") that flew under most people's radar late last year. The picture opens in 1916 as WWI is underway, and Blaine (Franco), along with a group of other American men, has decided to join a group of Americans heading off to France to volunteer for the Lafayette Escadrille.
Throughout the opening half of the film, we meet the other American pilots who have come along for the action (played by Martin Henderson, Tyler Labine, Abdul Salis and others) and watch as they quickly find themselves in the midst of dogflights with German planes. Blaine even falls for a French girl named Lucienne (Jennifer Decker), who can't speak English and yet, falls for him. Awww.
A movie with the feel of an old-fashioned war drama combined with millions in modern day visual effects (the dogfight scenes are pretty impressive), "Flyboys" certainly looks every bit of its reported $60M budget (I can't say I understand putting $60M into a period drama with an actor who has not proven himself successful in leading a picture, but that's just me.)
With a PG-13 rating (although that is rather surprising, given that there are some moments of war violence that do push the rating a bit), cinematography that occasionally reminded me of Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" and a lot of airborne action (while exciting, it does have a bit of a video game feel), "Flyboys" seems geared towards a younger audience that I can't see being all that drawn to it. On the other hand, adults who are interested in the history may find the story cliched and characters rather underdeveloped. In terms of trims that could have been done, the love story could have been one of the first things to go, as it's just not necessary.
The performances are average, with Franco offering a low-key effort that, while not weak, is not dynamic enough to hold the interest, especially for 140 minutes. Others, such as Martin Henderson and Jean Reno, turn in reasonably good performances, but no one turns in their career best in this feature. When the score generates more emotion than the performances, as I thought was the case here, it's problematic. Overall, this would have benefitted from being targeted more towards adult audiences and having the script rewritten to give the history, story and characters more detail and depth.
VIDEO: "Flyboys" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered good image quality, with some minor artifacting being the main concern. Sharpness and detail were consistently pleasing. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any definite comments on it, as the final copy will likely offer differing (and hopefully even better) image quality.
SOUND: "Flyboys" is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's sound design was terrific, taking full advantage of the surrounds to put the viewer in the midst of the film's several intense airborne battles. Surrounds chimed in during these scenes to deliver some exciting sound effects and ambience, but the rear speakers also delivered some nice background details during some of the quieter moments, as well. Audio quality was excellent, with rich, dynamic effects and clear dialogue. The DTS presentation had a bit more kick and slightly improved clarity, but both audio options were enjoyable.
EXTRAS: A commentary with producer Dean Devlin and director Tony Bill and trailers. A 2-DVD Special Edition with more extensive supplemental features is also available.
Final Thoughts: "Flyboys" offers a solid visual style and great special effects. However, the performances seem rather flat and there's not enough depth to the story or characters, making the 140-minute film seem even a little longer than that. Those interested may want to try a rental.
The Film C+