In Flyboys, the old planes outshine most of the acting.


Stars: James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno

Director: Tony Bill

Rating: PG

** (out of five)

They don’t make movies like Flyboys any more — for some pretty good reasons.

Flyboys is the heavily fictionalized story of the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of American fighter pilots who flew for the French in World War I. Flyboys is produced by Dean Devlin, the Spielberg wannabe who made Independence Day and Godzilla, and directed by television journeyman Tony Bill with a total absence of irony and a heavy layer of cheese.

Cocky Yanks and the subtly judgmental French joining forces to shoot down the enemy Germans — why, 70 years ago, you wouldn’t have been surprised to see Errol Flynn or Clark Gable in a picture like this, jaw pointed slightly, heroically, northward.

We don’t have a Flynn or a Gable these days, but we do have James Franco, the James Dean lookalike who’s become the go-to guy for military rebels with a cause, having done much the same thing in Annapolis and The Great Raid.

Here, he’s a displaced Texas rancher who develops a sense of comradeship and honor under fire, and still finds time to romance a comely French mam’selle (Jennifer Decker) who nurses him to health in a brothel. It’s a long story.

It really is a long story, running nearly two and a half hours, and the script spends much more time on the ground than in the air. The digitally-enhanced dogfight sequences are spectacular, but there’s a lot of slogging through clichéd debates about heroism and guilt, performed by a bunch of indistinguishable young actors and, as their embittered squadron leader, Martin Henderson, looking like a teary-eyed Kurt Russell’s teary-eyed younger brother.

Aviation enthusiasts will enjoy the loving attention that’s paid to the old planes, and fans of the French actor Jean Reno will admire the ease with which he steals every one of his scenes. But that’s probably it.

Don't miss the rest of today'smovie reviews by Norman Wilner and Rick McGinnis:

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