This Flight Never Gets Off The Ground

Posted: January 22, 1999

Richard (Kenneth Branagh) is an emotional cripple - a depressed painter who's given up on his art, and whose girlfriend has given up on him. Jane (Helena Bonham Carter) is a physical cripple - her body, her ability to speak, deteriorating under the irreversible ravages of Lou Gehrig's disease. Together in The Theory of Flight they make - well, truth be told, they make one really annoying couple.

A TV-movie-ish love story laden with heavy-handed metaphor (Bonham Carter's character comes right out and blurts: ``Taking flight has more than the one meaning''), The Theory of Flight is feeble stuff. Although the actress, fixed to a wheelchair, her head crooked, her speech slurred and stilted, manages to be convincing as a young woman with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Branagh is thoroughly unbelievable as a tortured artist who's turned his canvases into the flimsy skin on the wings of a hand-built airplane. His art, you see, was getting him down, so he thought he'd ``reinvent it into something that would get me up.''

He also wears vintage pilot goggles, has stopped shaving, and has retreated to a rundown shack in the country, surrounded by sheep: London, and life, was too much for him.

But because, at the beginning of the movie, he had leapt from the top of a bank building (where his ex-girlfriend works), the court has sentenced Richard to 120 hours of community service. Which is how he comes by Jane and vice versa: He is assigned to accompany her on weekly outings. Jane is ornery and foul-mouthed, and does not suffer fools; Richard is awkward and sulky. But a couple of long talks and a trip to an amusement park later, the two are as thick as thieves.

And then the trouble starts: Jane, who whiles away her time watching hard-core sex on the Internet, explains how, at 25, she is still a virgin. One night, in the hangar where Richard has built his Wright-brothers-style flying machine, she asks Richard if he would have sex with her. And if not, then to arrange it somehow - he's from London, he must know people. Thus follows a ridiculous scheme in which Richard plots to rob a bank (yes, the very same bank where his ex is employed) to pay for a pricey gigolo. Director Paul Greengrass even resorts to some old-fashioned movie madcappery (speeded-up film of the pair cavorting around a deluxe hotel suite, accompanied by bouncy ska on the soundtrack), fabricating whimsy in the midst of decidedly unfunny circumstances.

It's supposed to supply a sort of poignant comic counterpoint. It doesn't.


Produced by David M. Thompson and Anant Singh, directed by Paul Greengrass, written by Richard Hawkins, photography by Ivan Strasburg, music by Rolfe Kent, distributed by Fine Line Features.

Running time: 1:38

Jane - Helena Bonham Carter

Richard - Kenneth Branagh

Anne - Gemma Jones

Julie - Holly Aird

Parent's guide: R (profanity, sexual situations, adult themes)

Showing at: AMC Neshaminy 24

comments powered by Disqus