Ground Control (1998)
Even Jack Bauer couldn't rescue this
He flies like my ex-wife drives - T.C. Bryant
When I spotted "Ground Control" on the DVD rack and saw the cast list which included Kiefer Sutherland, Kelly McGillis, Bruce McGill and Henry Winkler I was thinking that maybe this was a movie which slipped under the radar of being commercially successful due to lack of promotion. But then when I saw that the asking price was just £1, I wondered what could be so bad about it that it only warrants just 100 measly pennies. Well curiosity got the better of me and having spent £1 I can honestly say that "Ground Control" is pretty mediocre but at a pound is not a complete waste of money. The biggest problem with the movie is that it turns out that it was made for TV and so really suffers from not having a big budget, but despite that it has some charm and compared to other made for TV movies is reasonable.
When air traffic controller Jack Harris (Kiefer Sutherland - A Time to Kill) loses a plane in an unavoidable accident his confidence takes a knock and quits the profession which he loved. But several years later and with the Phoenix airport fighting tight budget controls as well as the worst storm in years, he answers an emergency call and returns to the control tower to help out. But can he beat the demons that have haunted him since that fateful night and help bring down the planes when the odds are stacked against him.
The actual plot of "Ground Control" revolves around the drama of a flight control tower and in particular one New Years Eve where the already pushed staff are struggling so much that an ex-employee returns to try and help out. To be honest the plot is not that spectacular and whilst their is obvious some drama on two levels, that being whether Jack Harris can over come the flash backs of the fateful night when he lost a plane and that of whether all the planes which are stacked up in the sky will manage to land safely, it really lacks any power or suspense. Even the element which features the airport struggling from budget cuts doesn't add anything significant to the mix, and the whole thing lacks any real tension. Will they manage to land the planes, will Jack Harris save the day, well to be honest you can guess what will happen as soon as he returns to the flight control tower, but the journey from start to finish is quite enjoyable despite being limp and predictable.
It also doesn't help that "Ground Control" was obviously made on a tight budget and would imagine the majority of that went on star fees as the special effects, locations and scenery are not only extremely limited but unbelievably fake. The film literally only has a handful of locations and mainly stays in the flight control tower which looks distinctly unequipped to be controlling the skies above Phoenix. Everything looks really fake and at times I was waiting for a wall to wobble when a door got slammed. Even the scenes of the pilots in the skies is obviously low budget as all you get to see is the nose of the plane with the pilots in the cockpits, which is so obviously a mock up in a studio it was laughable.
Now although this does spoil "Ground Control" it is actually quite amusing and once you get past the initial disappointment of not having big budget effects it adds to the movies quirky charm. Making the movie so insular in its locations does cause things to seemingly jump, and whilst bigger movies will show a character moving from location to location, in "Ground Control" everything is done by snappy cuts, which makes it all seem a bit disjointed at times
As already mentioned, it is obvious that a lot of money has been spent on the cast and most significantly on landing Kiefer Sutherland to play the lead of Jack Harris. Whilst this is by no means Kiefer's best performance he does an admirable job of breathing life into a character which is pretty flat. Add to this some terrible, cliché dialogue and you start to question why he actually took the role. The character of Harris is pretty boring to be honest and whilst you get a real sense that the initial plane accident knocked him for six, his return to the job fails to really demonstrate the emotional turmoil that he is going through as he suffers flash backs to that fateful night.
What I did find surprising was that with a cast list which has some quite impressive names, they were all cast in rather minor roles and "Ground Control" spends all its time focusing on Kiefer Sutherland. Out of all the supporting cast the only actor who manages to make any impact is Henry Winkler as the airports engineer who has to fix the dieing systems on a shoe string budget. Not that his performance is brilliant but he manages to add some humour to the situation which surprisingly doesn't feel out of place in what is essentially a serious drama. The film would have been improved 10 fold if only they had made the supporting characters and actors more focal as relying on Sutherland to carry this film was always going to be a mission impossible due to the weak plot and dialogue.
What this all boils down to is that despite all of its obvious problems such as plot, effects and characters I did enjoy "Ground Control" and it has a certain amount of low budget charm to it that makes you sit there waiting for the ending despite being able to guess the outcome. A lot of the films emphasis is on the acting skills of Kiefer Sutherland, whilst this is not his best performance he does a reasonable job of making the film more than it deserves to be. In my opinion "Ground Control" would have definitely been improved if they had taken the entire burden off of his shoulders and spread the scenes more amongst the supporting cast as with some big names they would have added further dimensions. Even the cheesiness of the plot and fake special effects doesn't totally spoil this film and at times it makes even the more enjoyable.
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