The film follows the eager young whippersnapper Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) as hes initiated into the world of firefighters. He starts out all gung-ho, finding love in the local grocery store and best friends within the fire station. Then marriage, maturity, and a never-ending string of death-defying rescues changes him. He has doubts about his line of work in relation to being there for his wife and children. Did I forget to mention all of this is told in flashbacks as Morrison lies in the middle of a burning building, having fallen through the floor while trying to rescue some innocent factory workers? Its told that way, but it didnt have to be. The order in which the story's told matters not one iota to the plot of this cumbersome, lumbering pic. The actors could have recited their lines standing on their heads shaking pom poms and it wouldn't have added more than a glimmer of life to this lamebrain film.
Joaquin Phoenix couldnt be more vacant in this movie if theyd used a wax statue in his place. Phoenix is usually decent but this role eats him alive. Hes lost as an actor, wandering from scenes that have him the butt of fire station jokes into scenes where hes the romantic lead and onto scenes where his character faces life or death situations. As he pinballs between drama, romance, action, and comedy, he seems to have no focus, no connection to this character.
As for John Travolta, not much is really asked of him and he doesnt seem to offer anything extra to make us follow him into the flames. The other actors fare no better theres nothing notable about any of the supporting roles. Joaquin Phoenixs love interest, Jacinda Barrett, is supposed to age by 10 or so years throughout the film. I didnt buy it and you probably wont either. But thats the least of her worries. Her character, though a major player in the film, seems to have had her lines written as an afterthought. Its a wonder she didnt get whiplash from how often her character changes personality in mid-stride.
Firefighters in this film party, drink a lot, pick up on women, play jokes on one another pretty much all the time, and, of course, fight fires. Theres never a dull moment if youre a firefighter with the crew of Ladder 49. Life is one extraordinary event after another. Is it true to life? I dont know and Ladder 49 didnt make me want to find out. The brave men and women who fight fires for a living deserve better treatment than this mess of a movie. Youve got to support your local firefighters, but that doesnt mean you have to support this film.
"Ladder 49" was directed by Jay Russell and is rated PG-13 for intense fire and rescue situations, and for language.