Saturday, February 18, 2017

Airline '79 (2015)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Allie Anschutz, Jeremy Kreuzer, Cody Alvord, Hannah Rose Ammon
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An airline flight to London is placed in jeopardy by a bomb threat, and it's up to Captain Chuck Daniels to try and outsmart the bomber and find a way to save his passengers and crew.

This effort by writer/producer/director Joshua Kennedy is a homage to the airplane disaster films of the 1970s, which were kicked off by the initial film adaptation by Universal Pictures of Arthur Hailey's novel Airport, followed by several sequels.  Also included in the oeuvre was a competing film from MGM, 1972's Skyjacked, which provides the crux of the plot for Kennedy's tribute, in which a message scrawled in lipstick in one of the plane's restrooms spurs the action forward.

Charlton Heston, one of Kennedy's favorite actors, starred in two of the movies referenced, and Kennedy is clearly modeling his performance after the legendary star, which a confrontational speech aimed at the bomber once discovered makes abundantly clear.  He also as Hailey did in his novel, layers the film with multiple intersecting subplots, including a girl fleeing her abusive boyfriend, a pair of pickpockets hounded by an autograph seeker, and flight attendants competing for the Captain's romantic attentions.  The balancing of all those narrative elements within a 50-minute film is impressively pulled off by Kennedy and his cast and crew.

Filmed at Pace University in New York City, the young filmmaker didn't have a real plane interior to work with, but a cobbled-together cockpit and passenger cabin help suspend our disbelief, and although those sets are clearly artificial, that's quickly forgotten when the drama starts to escalate.  Scenes in a traffic control tower, dominated by Pace professor Jonathan Danziger playing the film's hard-nosed troubleshooter, aptly named Art Hailey, are of the same quality, with projections of radar displays on screens and monitors making us forget this was likely filmed in a university classroom.

Kennedy gets fine performances from his young cast of friends and classmates, with memorable turns from Allie Anschutz as his leading lady, Jeremy Kreuzer as a Southern drunkard, Kat Kennedy as the abused girl, Tomi Heady as the more cynical of the pickpockets, Brianna Gentilleia as the perky autograph seeker, Jake Williams as the worried navigator who starts to fold under pressure, and Traci Thomas providing comic relief as a sassy veterinarian who amusingly mispronounces a number of phrases.

Although the film lifts a number of bits of business and pieces of dialogue verbatim from the Airport and Skyjacked movies, uniting those elements in a cohesive screenplay had to have been a challenging chore, but it's the kind of chore which Kennedy has already shown a talent for in past productions.  There were countless scenes from those 1970s efforts he could have chosen to pay tribute to, but the ones selected are effectively used to create drama within the confines of his sets and budget, something he does so well, we've come to expect it.

No, Kennedy's film doesn't contain the star-studded casts or breathtaking aerial effects of the movies he's referencing, but for me, this effort recaptures much of the human spirit on display that made these productions so popular.  And for those who'd like to see another airborne adventure in these modern times where good triumphs over evil after a suspenseful crisis, they need look no further than this film.

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