Directed by: Jerry Jameson
Starring: Richard Tyson, Bobbie Phillips, Adriano Gonzalez, Rene L. Moreno, Cliff De Young, Vicellous Reon Shannon
Though certainly not the best movie of the year, for many people, Last Flight Out may be the only movie of the year. I found the story of a rescue in the Colombian jungle to be mildly interesting. But for those of the Baptist faith, it would seem to be much, much more.
In a great opening sequence, Dan (Richard Tyson, Moscow Heat), an airplane-repo man, sets off a diversionary explosion and steals a plane to return it to its rightful owner. Dan is cynical and rootless, unable to get legitimate piloting work since an accident several years ago killed his best friend and alienated him from the man's family. The dead man's sister, Anne Williams (Bobbie Phillips, Samhain), is a missionary doctor stationed in a remote jungle village in Colombia threatened by "narco-terrorists connected with Al Quaeda." The terrorists, led by the evil-but-charismatic Salazar (Rene L. Moreno, TV's Band of Brothers), have kidnapped the village men, forcing them to work in coca-leaf plantations. Anne's father (Cliff De Young, TV's The Secret Life of Zoey) begs Dan, whom he knows is still in love with his daughter, to fly to Colombia and rescue her.
After a lot of good flying footage (shot in Puerto Rico), which is not only fun for plane lovers but also makes it clear how far the missions are from the audience's safe U.S. homes, Dan lands in Colombia. A joyous Christian dentist, Dr. Matteo Barrerro (Adriano Gonzalez, I Witness), convinces Dan to take him to the village, along with medical supplies and Christmas gifts. Matteo admits that "it's hard to love such an enemy" as Salazar, yet he's infectiously joyous in his missionary work, for "there's no place better to be than in the center of God's will."
After arriving in the jungle, Dan gets an amusing lesson in native tradition from the village chief, but he's horrified at the danger Anne is in. Not only do the terrorists threaten the villagers every day, but they have also mined the fields around the village such that any attempts at escape could be deadly. Dan insists he is Anne's "last flight out," but she refuses to leave unless he agrees to take the remaining villagers with them. "Only a miracle," Dan retorts, could get the overweight plane in the air and keep it there. Anne challenges him to accept a miracle as reality.
It's edge-of-your-seat-tension as good as in any mainstream action movie when everyone struggles to get to the airfield with the armed terrorists in pursuit. Matteo selflessly stays behind to allow the others to escape, then hides in the jungle.
Only if a head wind arrives will the overloaded plane be able to take off. As the terrorists get close enough to shoot bullets into the plane, the miracle occurs: The windsock is filled. The plane takes off, flying safely to another town.
While Anne is recovering from a bullet wound, Dan heads back in a helicopter to rescue Matteo. He's joined by African-American pilot Jim (Vicellous Reon Shannon, Hart's War), who flies for Samaritan's Pride International Relief Fund. In a dramatic rescue, they pull Matteo into the chopper, but he's wounded fatally. Defying Dan's assumption of how a brave man faces death, Matteo dies peacefully, knowing that he is going home to the Lord. Dan is so impressed that he himself becomes touched by the divine, and begins to learn to pray.
To its credit, Last Flight Out (produced by World Wide Productions, the movie arm of Billy Graham's ministry) is the best Christian movie I've seen to date. But it still suffers the same preaching-to-the-choir flaws that leave everyone else underwhelmed. My repeated sermon to religious filmmakers: Let God's work speak by his actions (which requires the miraculous coupling of a good script with a good director), rather than in overly long, preachy orations.
Not everyone agrees with me, of course.
"It was totally awesome," declared Julie Conner, a member of Biltmore Baptist Church, just after seeing the film. "I found myself praying and crying and cheering for the people to escape. Oh, it was incredible!"
Her husband, Todd, agreed: "It was good and clean, and had a positive message. It should have been another three hours long."
Four of the five Conner children saw the movie and loved it. For 15-year-old Jesse, it touched a deep personal chord. "I want to be a missionary," she told me, "and go and serve God" -- perhaps in Romania, where so many children are in orphanages.
Her mother summed up why they all found Last Flight Out so impressive: "It delivered the plan of salvation --with a plot."
I haven't seen a more polite, more joyful, more good-looking family coming out of a theater in a long time, so you decide whose opinion on the movie you want to take.
-- reviewed by Marci Miller