The New York Times

Ostensibly, this would be the First World War as experienced by the Lafayette Escadrille, a pack of American boys who volunteered as Allied pilots before the United States entered the war. Under French command, they flew against the Germans in wood and canvas contraptions about as well engineered as a love seat from Ikea.

Of this history, “Flyboys” makes a soppy fantasy, representing war with approximately the level of realism marshaled by “Team America: World Police.” Leading the puppet people is James Franco as Blaine Rawlings, a cowboy with blond highlights who takes time off from killing to woo a French country girl (Jennifer Decker). Joining him are a blue blood (Tyler Labine), a black boxer (Abdul Salis), a screw-up (David Ellison) and Jean Reno as a French captain, hamming it up like a supersized croque monsieur.

Despite its empty head and arduous length, “Flyboys” is ever so nice, in the manner of a Norman Rockwell illustration (Lee 2006).

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The characters are not well defined. They appear to be a series of stereotypes. Among the featured stereotypes are a minority, a religious Christian, a rich snob, a Texas rancher (the film’s star James Franco), and a more experienced, jaded fighter pilot. Each character behaves as you would expect them to behave, and they are treated in the way you would expect them to be treated.

A love story is thrown in, of course. Franco’s character falls in love with a young French woman although he is afraid she may be a prostitute. That isn’t enough to keep him from attempting to further their relationship. Of course, neither does the fact that they don’t speak each other’s language and, thus, don’t really know what they are saying to each other.

The mid-air battles are spectacular. The computer-generated special effects are visually stunning. However, there does appear to be a certain measure of realism missing. The fighter pilots look more like they just walked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue rather than WWI fighter pilots entrenched in warfare. The battle scenes seem a bit overly sanitized. It makes it look like WWI was rated PG. I wasn’t around at the time, but I am sure it wasn’t. War never is.

If you are a fan of action movies, you will enjoy the action scenes. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of down time. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, it was just too long. There was no way the action could have stayed at a constant high. If the editor found a way to shave off 20 to 30 minutes of it, a much better movie may have been the result.

If you are looking for a true-life representation of WWI fighter pilots with richly drawn characters, move along. There’s nothing to see here.

But having said that, Flyboys is a passable entertainment diversion based loosely on a true story of men who left their comfort zone to fight for what they thought was right. There are lessons to be learned from their story. I do wonder if a war-weary nation will have any interest in heading to the multiplex to watch it though (Ryan).