Posted by martinteller on October 14, 2014
The overwhelming consensus on this movie seems to be that it’s one of Spielberg’s worst, and it’s certainly not one of his best. But I really didn’t think it was that bad. I didn’t know it was a remake of a 1943 Victor Fleming film called A Guy Named Joe, but while watching I was struck by the 40’s vibe of it. It’s got the snappy patter and camaraderie of a Hawks film, not to mention a setting that instantly brings Only Angels Have Wings to mind. Bits of Capra schmaltz and Sturges screwball and Lubitsch magic seem to be floating around in the air. It’s a fun exercise in throwbackism.
The real problem with the film is that it doesn’t do the work in building character. Take, for instance, the central relationship between Pete (Richard Dreyfus) and Dorinda (Holly Hunter). When we first meet them, they appear to be oil and water, having one of those classic antagonistic pairings. A few minutes later, and apparently they’ve been dating? By the next scene they seem to be longtime lovers, enjoying a deep, enduring romance. It’s a confusing and muddled relationship, as Spielberg wants to have it every way he can. They’re cute together, but maybe I’d rather trade those earlier “oil and water” scenes for something that sold me more on their love. The movie takes a lot of narrative shortcuts that leave us with character development and relationship dynamics that aren’t wholly convincing.
The consequence of this is a movie that’s not as moving as it clearly aims to be (lousy lines like “I’m moving out of your heart” don’t help). But it is enjoyable as a lark. Maybe the early scenes of Pete and Dorinda could do a better job of defining their relationship, but at least they’re entertaining. John Goodman is entertaining, too. The movie also takes a zero like Brad Johnson (Ted) and makes you like him, when you thought you never would. And the aviation scenes are beautifully done, with some genuine tension. I think the film, for the most part, achieves the feel of a 1940’s Hollywood production, with a reasonably satisfying blend of fantasy, romance, comedy and action. It’s not that great at any of them, but I don’t think it’s as terrible as its reputation suggests. Rating: Good (70)