(Publication date:  October 8, 2004)


The Hot Air beneath the Wings


It was a perfect autumn Saturday, the softened air painted by golden sunlight and swirling
leaves. So we popped exuberantly outdoors and headed straight for a dark indoor cavern in
Emeryville to catch
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

In this one, Jude Law is Sky Captain Joe Sullivan, flippant intrepid flyboy. Gwyneth Paltrow is
plucky Polly Perkins, ace girl reporter. Giovanni Ribisi is lovable Dex Dearborn, genius sidekick
geek. And Angelina Jolie is Angelina Jolie, with a form-fitting squadron commander uniform
and a black eyepatch but, alas, no whips and chains.

The basic idea here is that a mad scientist from Germany in the ‘30s is knocking off his
colleagues and using giant robots to steal the earth’s resources. Never mind why--if he weren’t
doing it, we wouldn’t have a story, not that we have much of one anyway. Polly gets her
manicured mitts on a clue about why this is all happening, and off we go. The ensuing
adventure suggests that all we really needed to win WWII  was Jude Law’s jaw, Gwyneth
Paltrow’s overbite, and Angelina Jolie’s lips, any of which, now that I think about it, is a better
look than Gen. MacArthur’s corncob pipe.
This movie is what you’d get if you threw
Flash Gordon, Metropolis,
Adam’s Rib, and the Wizard of Oz  into a blender. It’s like Walt Disney had an LSD flashback
in the middle of
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The actors worked against a blue screen and
everything else was tossed in later by computers that washed it all in retro-attractive earth tones
and made Gwyneth Paltrow the spitting image of Ingrid Bergman in
Casablanca. Everything is
brown, including Ms. Paltrow’s eyes, although later on they somehow turn up blue. Maybe
your irises change color when you fight robots while wearing stockings and heels.

Sky Captain is airhead fun and full of holes. Joe and Polly fly over the Atlantic in his single-
engine P-40 Warhawk in about eight minutes. Maybe, on the trip over, they scared the universe
into some kind of time warp with Joe’s plane, which, with the belligerent mouth and jagged
teeth painted on its fuselage, does look like a chillingly persuasive shark on a Saturday night,
planted at the front door of Chez Panisse with a big appetite, a hot date, and no reservation.

Moreover, Joe and Polly are able to cross the ocean in their two-seater without stopping for
fuel. Admittedly, there aren’t many runways with gas stations out there anyway, but there’s
always Atlantis. And don’t laugh.
Joe’s plane can actually fly, or swim, underwater, a neat trick, among many, conjured up by
Joe’s inventive pal Dex.

Meantime, we get it that Joe and Polly are supposed to duke out their scenes together like
Tracy and Hepburn, but as they wing their way to the Continent, Joe keeps his dashing leather
flying helmet and goggles firmly in place and neglects to offer the same protection to Polly. Of
course, that gives us paying customers one more chance to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s
incandescent hair, but come on Joe, give a girl a break.

Further on the fashion front, Joe and Polly end up trekking in Tibet, where they’re outfitted in
adorably fluffy stocking caps. It’s like before they set out in pursuit of the abominable scientist
in the forbidding shadow of Mt. Everest, they made a quick detour to Banana Republic.

Sky Captain does look great, so leave your brain back at the house and go have some fun. I
mean, why wait for tomorrow when you can waste a perfectly good afternoon today?


Life Is a Movie