I might have liked this movie more if they spelled it with a Z.
It may be difficult for most Americans to imagine a time in which our boys would actually volunteer to fight on the side of France, but that was indeed the case with the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of young Americans who enlisted as fighter pilots for the French military in World War I. Flyboys aims to tell their story.
At first glance, the Flyboys looks compelling. While innumerable movies have been made about World War II, its predecessor has gotten comparably short thrift, and the story of the Lafayette Escadrille is one well worth telling. But Flyboys is so weighed down by mediocre performances and hackneyed storytelling that it never manages to get off the ground.
Prior to its theatrical release, Flyboys made headlines more for its creative financing than anything else. Unable to sell the project to a studio, producers secured substantial independent funding, including a reported $30 million from Oracle founder Larry Ellison, whose son, incidentally, stars in the film.
Watching Flyboys, it quickly becomes apparent why so many studios balked at making the film.
James Franco headlines a largely no-name cast. Being the best-looking of the group, he's granted the sole romantic subplot, involving an impossibly angelic French farm girl named Lucienne. Every other member of the forgettable pilot ensemble gets his own one-dimensional storyline: a privileged rich kid looking for respect, an African-American boxer who endures discrimination, a religious fellow who sings "Onward Christian Soldiers" as he shoots down enemy planes, etc., etc., etc. The predictable story arc involves the group of precocious neophytes growing into grizzled veterans as they are hardened by the realities of warfare, their innocence shattered but their resolve undiminished.
Along with the plot, the dialogue is rife with clichés, only some of which can be attributed to the innocence and naiveté that characterized the period.
On the bright side, the aerial combat scenes are excellent. The riveting dogfight sequences take full advantage of the array of digital tools available to today's visual effects artists. I can't vouch for the authenticity of the battle footage, but the action feels real and effectively portrays the danger of pilots flying in wooden planes with exposed cockpits, with only leather helmets and goggles to shield them from bullets whizzing by.
Flyboys director Tony Bill is purported to be quite the World War I-era aviation enthusiast, and it looks like most of his resources were devoted to rendering the epic battle scenes. He would have done well to divert some of those resources to bolstering the script and cast, as no amount of visual effects wizardry can save this disappointing film.
What's on the Disc:
A commentary track featuring producer Dean Devlin and director Tony Bill.
A two-disc special edition is also available, with the following additional features:
"Real Heros: The True Story of the Lafayette Escadrille" Featurette
"Life of a Minature Stunt Pilot" Featurette
"Whiskey and Soda- The Lion Mascots" Featurette
"Taking Flight- The Making of a Flying Sequence" Featurette
"The Real Planes of Flyboys" Featurette
Flyboys Squadron DVD-ROM Game