Worth A Look: 18.18%
Pretty Bad: 35.06%
Total Crap: 6.49%
5 reviews, 47 user ratings
by Scott Weinberg
A few more low-IQ, rah-rah, chest-thumpers like "Ladder 49" and maybe the legions of American firefighters out there might actually get a PAY RAISE or something. Ha. Who am I kidding?My father was a lieutenant firefighter in the city of Philadelphia for over twenty years. After we both got done rolling our eyes through Ron Howard's Backdraft during its original theatrical release, I asked him why there were never any "realistic" movies about firemen. His response was: "It would be mostly very boring and occasionally very tragic. That's why."
"Next week on 'As the World Burns'..."
I wonder what my dad would think of Ladder 49 - a movie that seemingly claims to be a "realistic" depiction of what American firefighters go through every day.
Who knew my father had such amazing precognitive skills? Jay Russell's Ladder 49 is precisely how he predicted such a movie would be: mostly pretty boring and occasionally quite tragic. The film teeters between these two extremes, dropping liberal doses of cliché and cardboard along the way.
But yeah, the oh-so-dazzling infernoes are really loud and flashy. They should prove quite wonderful to anyone who's never been, well, trapped inside a burning building.
Since we're now living in a post-9/11 world that all of a sudden adores firemen, it comes as no surprise to see a movie like Ladder 49 wander down the pike. It's a safe little bet-hedger and a movie that will allow the multiplexers to "truly appreciate" the actions of our nation's firefighters - for at least 120 minutes, anyway.
Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) is a seasoned veteran of the Baltimore Fire Department. After rescuing a few folks from a truly ravenous factory fire, Jack falls into a big hole and konks his head. This old bump-on-the-noggin technique allows Jack (and us, of course) to wander back through time, as if Morrison's life was due for a Greatest Hits collection anyway.
Hey look: Jack as a starry-eyed and gung-ho rookie who gets teased by the older guys...
<Cut back to Jack rubbing his bloody head in the middle of a raging factory fire.>
Now Jack's saying goodbye to a firefighter buddy who died tragically. Damn, that's really sad...
<Cut back to Jack as he rubs his bloody head some more and looks for a door.>
Hey, Jack just met a really pretty girl! I wonder if they'll get marr...
<Cut back to Jack as he stumbles around a bit, bleeds, and waits patiently for the next flashback sequence to show up.>
Hey, look! Now Jack has a wife and two kids. Aw, family life is so sweet...
<Cut back to...>
Annoying, isn't it? The problem with telling a story in this fashion is simply this: the viewer ends up unable to care about either end. The "backstory" material is presented in such staccato fashion that it's really tough to build up any passion for the plot. And then toss in the fact that what you're watching are painfully predictable plot points and cookie-cutter characters in soap opera situations...Ladder 49 feels a whole lot longer than it actually is.
Fortunately there is some good news. To be completely fair, the action sequences are fairly dazzling; practical effects and CG wizardry combine to deliver some of the slickest fire-frenzies ever caught on film. And then there's the case of Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role. If they gave an Oscar for Most Valuable Player, then Phoenix would absolutely deserve a nomination. The guy single-handedly saves this movie from becoming outright snooze-worthy. The actor elevates even the most lifeless scenes and he does so with an effortlessness that makes one wish Lewis Colick's screenplay weren't so damn formulaic.
You'll have noticed from the Giant Head posters and billboards that Mr. John Travolta is Phoenix's co-star, and you'd expect the big goofball to be among the movie's more glaring detriments. But nope. Johnny T. knows he's the second banana here, and he manages to deliver a performance both sweet and surly. Not exactly Best Supporting Actor material, but I like to give credit where it's due, and Travolta does a pretty damn fine job here.Filmmaker Jay Russell ("My Dog Skip") takes his first dip into the FX pool and delivers a movie that's visually impressive yet emotionally hollow. It's possibly worth a look if you're a fan of Phoenix, Travolta or huge burning buildings - but I'd make it a matinee if I were you.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10960&reviewer=128
originally posted: 10/01/04 14:04:55