Saturday 25 February 2017

Movie Review: Always (1989)

A bland fantasy romance, Always has the wrong cast embarrassingly over-emoting their way through a banal story.

Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) and his pal Al Yackey (John Goodman) are aerial firefighters, experts in dropping retardant on raging forest fires from converted World War Two era bombers. A risk-taking daredevil in the sky, Pete has a long-term relationship with Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter), a fellow pilot who works mostly as a dispatcher. She loves him and wants him to stop flying, but he cannot bring himself to express his love and insists that flying is his life.

Pete dies in an aerial mishap after saving Al's life, and the angel Hap (Audrey Hepburn, as elegant as ever in her final screen role) guides his spirit back to earth. His spectral mission is to be the inspiration for handsome pilot Ted Baker (Brad Johnson), who wants to earn his aerial firefighting wings to win Dorinda's love. Pete finds himself torn between helping his protege and still pining for the love of his life.

A remake of 1943's A Guy Named Joe and one of director Steven Spielberg's rare but comprehensive misfires, Always lands with a dull thud. Nothing works: the jokes are juvenile, the romance is not even close to being convincing, the casting is atrocious, and almost every scene is extended well past its usefulness as the movie lumbers its way to a completely unnecessary running length of over two hours.

Spielberg falls into the trap of wanting every little event to be grand and goes looking for Meaningful Moments at every turn, the John Williams score inflating the emotions to laughable levels. The drama and tension, whether in the sky or back on earth, are contrived and appear targeted towards a child audience.

Resetting the story from the original existential World War Two conflict to the much more mundane territory of fire fighting in the middle of nowhere severely undermines the drama and the characters, with the actors comprehensively defeated by the material and ham-fisted tone. Richard Dreyfus and Holly Hunter are lost for purpose and share no chemistry. Dreyfus turns on full braggart mode, making Pete singularly boring and unattractive. Hunter, a most down-to-earth actress, struggles to play an ethereal inspiration. John Goodman essentially plays a caricature, and Brad Johnson has the screen presence of a white wall.

Always aims for a flighty fantasy, but stalls on the taxiway, belching putrid smoke.

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