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Amazing aerial sequences and a story based on real events make Flyboys a fascinating ride, but it"s not enough to chart a flight plan into territory that hasn't already been covered by many other war films.


Flyboys is about the Lafayette Escadrille, a real-life WWI French fighter squadron, and follows the adventures of young American men who volunteer to fly and fight for the French before the U.S.'s involvement in the war. The characters are either based directly on or are an amalgamation of the real men who flew in this most treacherous combat. There"s Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), a Texan who has just lost his ranch; William Jensen (Philip Winchester), a well-educated and earnest fellow; Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine), a privileged man who joins under the pressure of his wealthy and powerful father; Eddie Beagle (David Ellison), who is running from a criminal past; and Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), an African-American who escapes his country"s injustice and comes to France. And what would a war film be without a love interest? Blaine falls for Lucienne (Jennifer Decker), a local French girl, but that is really just a bit of a detour from the main story about these daring young men in their flying machines. With a life expectancy of about six weeks, they considered themselves knights of the air with their own code of chivalry and honor.


Unfortunately for this cast of fine actors, there isn"t a whole of time to show off their acting abilities. Franco (Spider-Man) is probably the biggest name and stands out as Rawlings, a guy who has nothing left to lose. The actor took his job very seriously, getting his pilot"s license—and should finally get a break from all the flops he has been in of late (Tristan and Isolde, Annapolis). Jean Reno does a fine job in the thankless part as the squadron commander, Captain Thenault. And Decker is captivating as Lucienne, debuting in her first U.S. film; it probably won"t be her last. Salis (Love Actually), Labine (Antitrust), Winchester (The Patriot), and first-timer Ellison (a licensed aerobatic pilot in real life) are all good, but Martin Henderson (Torque) as Reed Cassidy--a veteran pilot and a bitter loner with a big chip of his shoulder--is the most interesting of the supporting players. These fighter pilots, known for being methodical and hyper-courageous in the air, were also a bit eccentric and tortured when on the ground.


With Flyboys, director Tony Bill (My Bodyguard) found his dream project. Bill has always been known as an actor"s director, and definitely keeps his Flyboys in check. But where the film really soars, pun intended, is in the absolutely remarkable aerial sequences. The director is an expert pilot himself, and his love of flying is clearly evident and the real guiding hand. He does an excellent job in capturing what it must have been like to be a WWI fighter pilot, putting audiences right in the hot seat, almost quite literally at times. There haven"t been many movies made about this particular subject, obviously due to lack of technology to make it seem real. And it"s that commitment to realism which ultimately what keeps Flyboys flying higher than it should. If the story had been more compact and compelling, this might have been a classic war movie. Instead, Flyboys is a just good film based on true war stories, with better pictures.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.