Denzel Washington is a great actor. He's got the awards bling and box office success galore. But just in case you forgot, he'll remind you he's got the acting chops in Flight; a tirelessly manipulative vanity piece from director Robert Zemeckis. Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a boozed up, coked up, sexed up airline pilot. Loaded to the gills after a night nailing one of his flight attendants (Katerina Marquez), Whitaker does the impossible and successfully crash lands his plane after a catastrophic mechanical failure. At first Whitaker is hailed as a hero, but as investigators probe the crash, his toxicology report brings to light his many demons. It seems Whitaker was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system the morning of the flight. The lawsuit seekers need a target. Before long Whitaker is embroiled in a fight to exonerate himself, while facing hard truths about his lifestyle.

Flight is essentially acting chum for Denzel Washington. He's given a juicy character with loads of problems and runs with it to glory. His performance is fantastic, but the story surrounding the character is weak. Every scene is set up to show Whitaker facing a new obstacle. Then when the climax hits, it's entirely predictable what his character's actions will be. Flight, for all its good intentions, comes off as a fluff piece. There needed to be more balance to the story to make it more believable. Also, the supporting characters are one sided. They're there as filler while Washington is doing the acting hard lifting.

The opening plane crash sequence is very well done and the high point of the film. I'm pretty sure you'll never see Flight on an airplane. Robert Zemeckis is a technically gifted director. He is an elite filmmaker and his craftsmanship is never in question. I wonder if the script was so central on Whitaker, or if Zemeckis just fell head over heels for his star. I can almost picture him in the editing room making sure Denzel Washington was front and center in every scene.

Flight is a hard R film. It literally opens up with a full frontal shot of nudity. Zemeckis is showing audiences from go that he's making an adult film. There's nothing wrong with that in the least. The first act of Flight is as engrossing as any film I've seen this year. It's when the film starts pandering to Washington's performance that it loses steam. I've seen too many movies in my life to be easily manipulated into feeling emotions for a character. Zemeckis is trying too hard to illicit a reaction here. That's a misstep for a director who's had a fabulous career making complete films with memorable characters.

I'm a bit torn on recommending Flight, but am going to because it is not a bad movie. It is certainly well made and acted, but more a Lifetime movie of the week substance-wise. Denzel Washington fans will not be disappointed here. He's good in any film he makes. Flight just needed to be more realistic and less fawning about him.

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