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Overall Rating

Awesome: 28.21%
Worth A Look: 19.23%
Average: 11.54%
Pretty Bad34.62%
Total Crap: 6.41%

5 reviews, 48 user ratings

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Ladder 49
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Scott Weinberg

"Next week on 'As the World Burns'..."
2 stars

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."

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.

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originally posted: 10/01/04 14:04:55
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
3/24/10 Firefighter005 loved the movie, but as a firefighter myself, id luv to go in a burning building w/o smoke 4 stars
1/26/09 a firefighter Not a single firefighter would go into that building...surround and drownd! 3 stars
1/09/09 Shaun Wallner Was'nt all that great! 2 stars
4/22/08 Sarah Loved it! I've seen it 100 times and it's made me cry every time! 5 stars
12/05/06 William Goss Breezes through its rampant cliches, marred by the hokiest of endings. 3 stars
9/05/06 sam its good seeing americas heroes being onscreen instead of the usual teen drama 5 stars
9/02/06 nicole for all them people who think this movie is shit well you dont no what a good movie is! 5 stars
5/25/06 Piz Lot's of potential but very formulaic and predictable. A snoozer for the most part. 2 stars
1/10/06 Michael Flat as a pancake 1 stars
9/13/05 Taylor Fladgate Painful at times to watch. Cliche ridden. Who rated this "awesome"??? 2 stars
6/17/05 Leigh as a firey, would never go into a building burning without a buddy with hose and water. 1 stars
5/18/05 mwildema its like they tried to make this suck 1 stars
5/06/05 Dan The ultimate tribute to firefighters worldwide. 5 stars
4/18/05 DM Crappy, sappy, cliched and one-dimensional 2 stars
3/31/05 James I am a firefighter in idaho and it really hit me hard and touched home with our lives. 5 stars
3/18/05 Crandall101 I loved it! 5 stars
3/16/05 Lauren it was good 3 stars
3/10/05 oOParkerOo Boring 2 stars
3/02/05 David Tsung good acting and surprisingly a pretty good soryt 4 stars
2/05/05 Amy Bradshaw Everyone needs to see this film, a wonderful tribute to firefighters. 5 stars
1/27/05 Jeff Anderson A great, spirited, & heroic film. Travolta gives a heartfelt & flat-out great performance!! 5 stars
1/08/05 Aldo This really stinks 2 stars
1/03/05 Feliciano It's the same cliché off heroism, but its an incredible and very beautiful and educative on 4 stars
11/21/04 Meg best movie I've ever seen... left me crying at the end. 5 stars
11/10/04 alicia lacount i loved it 5 stars
11/08/04 Amanda i loved it 5 stars
10/29/04 infurno I thought ladder 49 was a awsome movie, all my friends at the fire house thought so to. 5 stars
10/28/04 Chuck E Z Worth watching, visually, emotionally, and for the entertainment value. 4 stars
10/26/04 jcjs fine 5 stars
10/25/04 Alex This is Joaquin's best movie 5 stars
10/24/04 M Poor man's Bacdraft. Have you seen that movie recently? 5 stars
10/23/04 ODH This is a poor man's Backdraft, with little more than a cliche storyline 2 stars
10/18/04 D Kennedy I am a professional Fire FIghter and would give it a 9 out of 10 5 stars
10/18/04 Rob P S Heartrending 5 stars
10/15/04 Karl I thought this movie was terrific. I agree the plot was somewhat thin, but it didnt matter 5 stars
10/10/04 E. W> Sumner Better than your half-assed review says 4 stars
10/07/04 marge OKAY...listen..this movie is AwEsOmE*if anything we should give RESPECT & STOP complaining! 5 stars
10/07/04 Tiffany I thought this Movie was a great depiction of how firefighters really are. 2 thumbs up!!! 5 stars
10/07/04 ownerofdajoint good flick;especially the fire scenes.puts a firemen's job in a new light.well told 4 stars
10/04/04 Joe Smaltz Poor special effects, needed a technical director. medocre predictable plot. 2 stars
10/02/04 Kris backdraft II 1 stars
10/02/04 John Scarborough I thought this movie was rather good. It was wonderful but yet sad. I cried a bit. Must S 5 stars
10/02/04 Fuck Firemen Firefighters dont deserve any of this praise..they are a bunch of lazy self serving hacks 1 stars
10/02/04 Mark D Fulwiler thie movie doesn't honor firefighters---it deifies them--good fire effects though! 2 stars
10/01/04 Angelo Sudano Very interesting and realistic take on the life and career of a Firefighter. 5 stars
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  01-Oct-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2005



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