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Ladder 49

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Ladder 49

Starring: John Travolta, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Jay Russell
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: October 2004
Genres: Action, Suspense, Drama

*Also starring: Morris Chestnut, Jay Hernandez, Jacinda Barrett, Kevin Daniels, Robert Patrick, Kevin Chapman, Balthazar Getty, Billy Burke, Tim Guinee

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

LADDER 49, as directed by MY DOG SKIP's Jay Russell, is a movie in a war with itself. About a quarter of the time LADDER 49 wants to be a high energy action picture with intense and realistic firefighting sequences that have earned the movie the informal nickname of BACKDRAFT II, which it isn't. These harrowing episodes of firemen risking their lives day in and day out in burning and collapsing buildings in order to save strangers are all effectively touching and believable.

The majority of the story, however, is set in the firehouse, in firemen's houses and in the bar where they all go to get drunk together. In these settings, the movie piles on the schmaltz and the lame attempts at humor so that we'll see the film as a comedy with a big heart, a really big heart. These sequences, which feel both labored and long, are hard to get excited about since the story never creates characters who are more than caricatures.

The story is structured as a series of flashbacks, as trapped fireman Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) watches his life flash before his eyes as building walls fall and burn all around him. Outside, his old captain and now Chief Kennedy (John Travolta) directs a large rescue effort to save him from what looks like will be certain death.

Although most of the plot concerns the life of a fireman, we learn little we couldn't have guessed, save the predilection of fireman to play a recurring series of really silly practical jokes on each other like a bunch of frat boys who never grew up. The first gag, shown in the trailers, has the rookie Jack being tricked into confessing his sins to Lenny Richter (Robert Patrick), a fellow fireman who is impersonating a priest. These incidents aren't especially funny or consequential. In fact, whenever the fires aren't burning, the movie appears to just be marking time until it can light something up again.

Our heroic firemen deserve a better movie than LADDER 49, which tries earnestly but fails nonetheless.

LADDER 49 runs 1:55. It is rated PG-13 for "intense fire and rescue situations, and for language" and would be acceptable for kids around 10 and up.

Copyright 2004 Steve Rhodes

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