Pushing Tin
Directed by Mike Newell
Written by Glen and Les Charles
Starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie


Pushing Tin

For a long time now, United Airlines has let you listen in on the air traffic controllers right at your seat. When they pass out the earphones, just set the dial at channel 9, listen for your flight number, and eavesdrop on the talk between your flight crew and the controllers. On my last flight I even got to hear an audio search for a plane that had lost contact somewhere over Vermont.

What you'll notice as you listen is the calm with which everybody follows protocol. Not slow or dull, just calm and professional. I tell you all this because if you think 'Pushing Tin' is anything like real life you'll be taking the bus from now on. This movie is so hyped up, with every air traffic controller speed-talking into his or her microphone, it's a wonder the planes can even make sense of the gibberish they hear.

'Pushing Tin' stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as testosterone-loaded high-school juniors -- excuse me, experienced air traffic controllers -- competing to see a) who can sleep with whose wife first; b) who can put more planes closer together in a landing pattern than the other, without crashing them into each other; and c) who can have a nervous breakdown first. Does that sound like fun? If it does, you'll no doubt love the movie.

The film was developed by the brothers Glen and Les Charles, of 'Cheers' fame, from a New York Times Magazine article about controllers, and it suffers from a surfeit of plot climaxes more suitable to television than to a serious film. It also gives us three endings, one right after the other, as though it's just unwilling to let go of what it never really bothered to develop in the first place. The first ending is melodramatic -- the bomb is about to go off, don't ask -- the second is a harmonious convergence as Cusack and Thornton discover their inner feelings for each other -- and the third is so truly stupid I can't believe it was actually filmed, and it involves Cusack's wife -- the amazing Cate Blanchett in Long Island housewife drag -- literally being called to the cockpit of an airliner in flight to hear her husband sing a song of reconciliation. Which, by the way, the whole cockpit crew joins in to end the film. It's right out of a Zucker-Abraham-Zucker film.

In actuality, the movie was directed by Mike Newell, he of 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and 'Donnie Brasco,' and someone has evidently persuaded him to incorporate such tired devices as slow motion at exciting moments, which do nothing but slow everything down to a crawl. Cusack is a better actor than you would guess from his role here, and Thornton is a much better actor, yet here they are, tied together like hostages in some caper gone dreadfully wrong, and waiting hopefully to be released. Wish them luck.