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"Ladder 49" Movie Review

A Sure Cure for Insomnia


John Travolta stars in Ladder 49

John Travolta stars in "Ladder 49"

© Touchstone Pictures
How can a movie with flames leaping all over the place, people in jeopardy, and firefighters bravely battling against immeasurable odds be such a yawner? I almost feel guilty calling this film a bore - there’s a post 9/11 vibe to it that makes disliking it seem a bit unpatriotic, which feels disingenuous to say the least - but that’s what it is. “Ladder 49” is a big, bloated, boring, heartless drama that tries too hard to be wrestle some tears from its poor unsuspecting audience.

The film follows the eager young whippersnapper Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) as he’s 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? It’s told that way, but it didn’t 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 couldn’t be more vacant in this movie if they’d used a wax statue in his place. Phoenix is usually decent but this role eats him alive. He’s lost as an actor, wandering from scenes that have him the butt of fire station jokes into scenes where he’s 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 doesn’t seem to offer anything extra to make us follow him into the flames. The other actors fare no better – there’s nothing notable about any of the supporting roles. Joaquin Phoenix’s love interest, Jacinda Barrett, is supposed to age by 10 or so years throughout the film. I didn’t buy it and you probably won’t either. But that’s the least of her worries. Her character, though a major player in the film, seems to have had her lines written as an afterthought. It’s a wonder she didn’t 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. There’s never a dull moment if you’re a firefighter with the crew of Ladder 49. Life is one extraordinary event after another. Is it true to life? I don’t know and “Ladder 49” didn’t 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. You’ve got to support your local firefighters, but that doesn’t 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.

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