Pushing Tin

Reviewed By Ryan Arthur
Posted 05/06/99 00:59:48

"I used to bowl when I was an alcoholic."
3 stars (Average)

Great cast. Shaky execution.

Nick Falzone (John Cusack) is an air traffic controller in the hub responsible for three different airports, including Newark. He's nicknamed "The Zone" because he's probably the best there is at what he does. He can line planes up "like Rockettes" for approach. He has the admiration of his coworkers, who blow off steam at the local diner. Nick's in the fast lane. Drive fast, intensely focused. He never lets the pressure of the job (or the gravity of the situation if something goes wrong) get to him. He's married (happily?) to Connie (Cate Blanchett, light years away from Elizabeth). All is seemingly well in Nick's world.

Enter Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton). He's like a Zen master. He's an enigma. He's equally as focused and driven as Nick, but he's sort of "at peace with himself." With Russell and Nick it becomes a game of "anything you can do..."

Russell also has a 20-year-old wife named Mary (Angelina Jolie, taunting me with those bee-stung lips yet again). Mary puts away vodka three bottles at a time and dresses like a stripper on her way to work. Nick is, of course, smitten.

Nick and Mary tumble into bed, and it's all downhill from there. Russell finds out, but isn't angry, he just starts to play with Nick's mind. Soon, Nick thinks Connie and Russell are together, and Russell isn't exactly denying it. Nick, on a plane, even thinks Russell is intentionally driving his plane through a storm. Nick's marriage begins to crumble.

It all comes to an head when there's a bomb threat to the air traffic control building. Nick and Russell both stay to help talk planes down, but it turns into a pissing match between the two of them.

And then...

Well, it goes all soft. A perfectly interesting movie with great characters settles for formula. Could be because the whole thing was written by Glen and Les Charles, writers and creators of the TV show "Cheers." Could be because that's what the studio wants. Either way, the ending is a letdown, especially given the great group of characters and the actors portraying them.

There are good scenes (there's a video of Russell standing on the runway as a 747 comes in to land above him. He does it just to see what the backwash of a 747 feels like. It's arguably the film's funniest scene) and occasionally great dialogue (Mary to Nick after their tryst: "Mr. Falzone, what's the fewest number of words you can use to get out that door?") but it just doesn't add up.

As for the cast, Cusack is Cusack. Always dependable. I always wonder if the role he plays is where the character of Lloyd Dobler ended up. Thronton has the supporting role down pat. He's a scene stealer. Blanchett does the best she can with a one-note character, and Jolie is sexy as hell.

It's not enough, though. With a different film (same premise perhaps, but a different film nonetheless) this could've been fantastic. Solid performances, plus, how often do you see a movie about air traffic controllers? See it for the actors, not the plot.

Oh, and after seeing this movie, I don't think I ever want to fly into, or out of, Newark ever again.

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