Cinema Signal:

New York City Firefighting
(Images of America)

. "Ladder 49"

A better title for this weeper would be "49 Hankies," one of each should be distributed to every third woman or so coming through the ticket counter. It revolves around the tension-building details and natural drama of fire-fighting, with the occasional deft touch of physical techniques, and the melodrama of one man's love, marriage, becoming a father, and maybe or maybe not coming home one night.

For some reason I kept visualizing Denzell Washington in the lead role, thinking he might have the juice to lift it off the (boring) written page but finally decided that even he couldn't effect a rescue. At least the part of central figure Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) as the rookie who grows into a hero (do you smell a cliche here?) got the actor the material warrants.

John Travolta as his semi-adoring captain and beloved leader turns in another uncourageous piece of work but we're happy to see him working these days in whatever project he can dig up. We wouldn't want him away from our screens for too long so it may be unfair to expect too much.

Jacinda Barrett ("The Human Stain") as the lucky lady who falls for the courageous savior of fire victims provides the right look and feel for a portrayal that the writers kept at the right distance for a stereotype, but I got the impression that this Australian beauty will be showing up in better work. We wouldn't want to get too wrapped up in the relationship when there are so many different types of fires and disaster situations to cover.

Pretty underwhelming material that's going to warm the cockles of countless uncritical hearts beating in the chests of those who want their drama spoon fed and predictable. The more the better and this film that Disney should have done smokes up the place with all that and more.

The sentiments many Americans feel about firefighters these 3 years after 9/11 are not well served by a movie with such a watered down portrayal of their realities. It's a hose-job of sentimentality and stereotyping.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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