Though handsomely mounted and efficiently staged, this mass of firefighter cliches swings wildly between heartstring-tugging melodrama, testosterone-fueled action and buddy comedy, weighed down by too many predictable twists and storytelling contrivances, starting with the fact that it unfolds almost entirely in flashback. After a harrowing, valiant effort to save a civilian from a blazing warehouse, Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself trapped inside the crumbling cement building, fighting for his life. As he tries to battle his way to safety and Capt. Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) directs rescue efforts outside, Jack reminisces about the highlights of his career and life. He starts with his first day on the job, when Mike, his new boss and mentor-to-be, welcomed him with an elaborate initiation prank. Jack soon develops a strong bond with Mike and the rest of the hardworking men who fight fires from Engine 33, as well as their companion search-and-rescue squad on Ladder 49. He becomes especially close to thoughtful family man Tommy Drake (Morris Chestnut) and laid-back Dennis Gauquin (Billy Burke), who exaggerates his fire-fighting prowess to impress girls. In fact, Dennis's suave ways help Jack work up the courage to talk to Linda (Real World: London alumna Jacinda Barrett), the dream girl he meets at a grocery store. Soon the happy couple are married and starting a family, but as their responsibilities grow, both become ever more aware of the costly risks of his honorable job, a point brought home vividly when a member of Jack's close-knit firehouse family dies in the line of duty. Director Jay Russell does a tremendous job creating vivid, claustrophobic scenes of fiercely burning buildings, and makes an admirable effort to show the camaraderie that unites the firefighters. But too many solid supporting actors are given too little to do, their underwritten characters forgotten as soon as they're off screen. A surprisingly toned-down Travolta and an equally surprisingly beefed-up Phoenix are well cast, but the film falters when Jack and Linda's relationship is pushed to the forefront. While the lovely Barrett looks adorable as Jack's doting girlfriend, when she graduates to supportive-but-worried wife the dramatic burden that settles on her petite shoulders overwhelms her abilities.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Though handsomely mounted and efficiently staged, this mass of firefighter cliches swings wildly between heartstring-tugging melodrama, testosterone-fueled action and buddy comedy, weighed down by too many predictable twists and storytelling contrivances,… (more)