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You’ll need an airsick baggie for this one

Denzel Washington slurs, stumbles and sneers through his role as an addicted commercial pilot, creating the perfect picture of a man who has no idea how lost he is. <<© Paramount Pictures>>

When SouthJet Airlines flight 227 falls from the sky, some miraculous maneuvers from the captain save most of the passengers from death. Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington: Safe House) is thrust into the spotlight as the media clamors to learn more about the hero.
    The National Transportation Safety Board is more interested in finding out what caused the plane to take a nosedive in the middle of a seemingly routine trip. Especially of interest are toxicology reports that indicate Whitaker was almost as high as the plane the morning of the flight.
    As it turns out, Whitaker might be one of the best pilots in the business, but he is a disgusting person. He smokes, he drinks, he snorts coke and he manipulates every person he meets into enabling his behavior. He even visits his hospitalized ­coworkers to bully them into keeping quiet.
    Faced with a prison sentence if his indiscretions come back to haunt him, Whitaker goes cold turkey on all his vices — for about a week.
    Soon he’s back at the bottom of the bottle and snorting lines of coke, not because he’s addicted but because he’s just so wrongfully persecuted.
    Will Whitaker clean up his act in time to testify at the NTSB hearing?
    Flight is a fair movie with a great performance. Washington is at his best as an arrogant addict who doesn’t want to sober up. Unfortunately, director Robert Zemeckis (A Christmas Carol) isn’t up to capturing this bravura performance.
    Music choices are sloppy and obvious, including introducing a drug dealer by blaring Sympathy for the Devil on the soundtrack. Characters appear, deliver heavy-handed monologues then disappear. There’s even a sexy heroin addict, as the thought of Denzel Washington going through a whole movie without a sappy love interest was too much for Zemeckis.
    It’s clear that Zemeckis believes that addiction is a massive problem, so it seems questionable that he makes the addicts in the film so darn attractive.
    Zemeckis films what is in essence a commercial for Narcotics Anonymous, yet he misses the most interesting question raised in the movie. In the beginning of the film, as the plane is plunging toward the earth, crew and copilot panic. It’s an understandable reaction. But Whitaker, who is high as a kite, remains calm, clear and focused through the crisis.
    It’s implied that Whitaker’s life-saving actions are a combination of his natural skill and his pickled brain’s extraordinary processing of information. It would have been interesting to examine whether Whitaker’s intoxication actually aided his flying that fateful day.
    Much like the character he portrays, Washington performs a miracle of sorts in Flight: He transforms a trite script and shoddy direction into a riveting film. He slurs, stumbles and sneers through the movie, the perfect picture of a man who has no idea how lost he is. It’s an oddly unlikeable role for a movie star so known for his charisma.
    Zemeckis does get a brief moment to shine at the beginning of Flight. His plane crash sequence — full of flailing bodies, dizzying camera angles and crunching metal — is enough to make this reviewer never want to travel the friendly skies again.
    Flight is not be a perfect film, but it features a near-perfect performance from Washington. Take a Dramamine, cancel any planned air travel and buy a ticket. It’s worth the trip for Washington.

Good Drama • R • 138 mins.