What is the point of going into detail about some work of art that you hate with a passion? In this case, it just has to be done. There is no getting around it. I've stewed about it for 24 hours now, and 24 may be next. I've wasted so many hours on that disorganized mess of a TV show that it's criminal. If Jack Bauer ever tells me to take his weapon and cover his back, I will shoot him in the face and high five the terrorists. However, that's a TV show and it's free, unlike this film which actually asked folks to pay good money to leave their homes and see on the big screen. According to box office receipts, many actually did. According to reviews, at least half of the viewing populace actually thought it was "uplifting" and "memorable." The sadness of finding any positive review existing on this planet for this piece of garbage makes me have to wonder about the value of it all. And I mean IT ALL as in, "would it really matter if the core of this wobbly planet just exploded violently, leaving no trace whatsoever of any events which have occurred here."
You may think that's overboard, but I tell you I am dead serious. The fact that the producers and directors and actors and anyone involved in this piece of celluloid disgrace were allowed not only to avoid burning at the stake but to actually profit from this assault on my senses is evidence enough that the Great Experiment might well have failed horribly and beyond repair. Darwin may have been right but in gear-crunching reverse when it comes to what entertains the hoomuns. I've worried about this while musing about Oprah, Larry King, Alec Baldwin, Jacques Derrida, Michael Moore and others, but never has the problem been shoved so violently in my face than having to endure one hour and forty-eight minutes (I didn't stay for the credits) of the most drivel-driven piece of crap ever put to media.
I really upset my lovely wife when I spent some spittle-spewing time ranting about this film just as the credits began to roll. It turns out that she was just looking for some "mindless entertainment" prior to bed and I was ruining not only her enjoyment of the piece but her straightaway slumber-time. I should have followed my instinct and walked away after the first 45 minutes. I knew it wasn't going to change; I knew it would not get better, but how could I have known how much worse it would get?
I would say something about "spoilers" around this time, but nothing could spoil this rotten tripe. It was ruined before it was born. The main reason for that is that it plays its primary marketing card by treading on the dead firemen of 9/11. You remember the oft-quoted comment about how "firemen run into buildings when others run out"? How many times do you think that line could be used in a movie like Ladder 49 without being trite to the point of criminality? If you said, "None," you would have been correct. But not only is the phrase used once (to such an inner groan from your humble correspondent that my wife suggested Tums for relief) but once again. Just to make sure you GET IT, you see. You are to understand that firemen are noble men, strong men, Irish men (for the most part), heterosexual men (without doubt), hard-drinking men who love their families with a ferocity that a common unit like you will never know. They just don't like to actually spend a lot of time with these families. That would detract from their important duties of tossing back dark beer and shooters and putting large animals in each others' lockers for brief respites of amusements from their epic endeavors each and every damn day. In this film, that Olympian task involves mostly showing them saving boarded up crack houses in some northeast city. Baltimore, I think. But I don't really care about the actual locale. Nor should you.
"How could I not care about these noble blue collar workingmen, dannye? You are a heartless bastard." Yes, that's likely true. But it does not change the fact that there has never been a film with less character development than this one. To say that these characters are cardboard cutouts would be to defame every cereal box in existence. It would be hard to say whether the ones with the most lines fare best or not. There is the strawberry blonde wifey whose dialogue is not really varied enough to criticize. Well, one could criticize the writers. One could criticize them while holding burning torches to the piles of kindling underneath their stakes. But, back to wifey. Brave firefighter rookie meets her in the grocery store. Noble workingman blaze-squelcher gets her fuck-faced drunk with his buddies and gives her the clap. No, wait. He marries her after banging her while she is so drunk that piles of vomit lay in the aisles of the wedding chapel. Not really, but these montages go by pretty fast, so it's hard to keep it all straight. Let's see: There's the meeting in the grocery, there's the drunken sex, there's the wedding, there's more drinking with his noble and erstwhile buddies, then a couple of kids, a birthday party, and then a funeral. Yeah, I think that about covers it. During that entire lifetime of marriage, wifey doesn't say one meaningful thing over and above, "I'm worried you might get all burninated." My God, does she say it with conviction. Convicted for the worst acting job since Beowulf was read aloud by some drunken Thane several centuries ago. This part is played by Jacinda Barrett, if you'd like to send flowers. I'd suggest a nice spray of roses. The family likes to take those home after the coffin is lowered.
I think it was after the sixth of wifey's walk-ons that I decided not only the character but everyone involved with this effort had to die. That's the "birthday party" if you weren't paying attention. It's a hectic afternoon with all the "birthday part" shots. Yes, there's a cake with candles. You had to ask? The overweight and seriously overpaid John Travolta character helps put the two kids to bed. Yes, there are TWO . . . can you tell me their names, if you saw this film? I will bet you my house that you can't even tell me wifey's name, let alone these two afterthoughts in their lives. Anyway, this gesture by Mr. Travolta is so that wifey and hero firefighter can be alone. They are sitting outside in the hammock or whatever. She giggles and then breaks into song. Guess what song she sings? What would be the most horrible thing you could think of? Does she sing it well? Is she even trying? I think we're alone now, she sings in such a silly way, ashamed of this scene to the point of failing to even make eye contact with the actor playing her husband, that it makes the Tommy James & The Shondells version sound like the anthem for the apex of mankind's musical heritage. And that's the end of the scene. I can just see the Director yelling, "CUT! Oh, man, that's a keeper, dude!" His name is Jay Russell and he was born in Arkansas. Yeah, I know. The joke around here is "who is going to embarrass us the most this week, John Daly or Bill Clinton?" Well, we can add another name to that list.
This story has a formula that repeats itself over and over. Hero firefighter is in trouble and facing death. Flashback to cute scenes about rookie and family. Someone dies and there is a funeral. Back to hero in current trouble. Nell tied to the RR tracks. Flashback to scenes about family. Someone gets hurt and there's a hospital visit. Back to hero in current trouble. Etc. Repeat as often as necessary to fill up enough time to charge admission.
Admittedly, the effects are fairly well done. The fires look really real. But what is the point of spending money making realistic fires if you don't have anything to say? We used to make fires for just the hell of it when I was a kid. That's what these folks are doing. Childishly making fires for the hell of it.
I know there was at least one more thing that really bothered me about this mess. I told you that they were using 9/11 as a device to sell tickets to a fast-tracked film before the sympathy faded, didn't I? I am quite sure I did my best to explain how there was no character worth caring about, due to faulty writing and excruciating editing. I'm fairly sure I covered the awful formula the plot follows. Did I mention that if you ever wondered why you don't really remember who Joaquin Phoenix is, it's because he is really just not a very good actor? Did I cover the part about the disjointed editing and sound work during the big "save a black girl in a high-rise" that looked like it came from Requiem for a Dream and was totally out of place with the other editing schemes? What am I leaving out? Oh, yeah. It's the music.
You know how annoying it is when you are watching a TV show like Felicity or The OC (I'm guessing here; I've never seen either of those shows) and they miss the seemingly easy mark that a show like Freaks and Geeks or The Sopranos always seem to hit precisely by playing an appropriate song? You tell me if I'm wrong, but I'm betting they do that on those types of shows, don't they? It's because they are just trying to fill time by something like an MTV music video, thinking no one will really notice. I didn't add up the minutes in Ladder 49, but I am betting that a full 10% of this movie is filler of just awful music that doesn't fit whatsoever.
I could list the songs played. I could tell you the other actors and production folks who made this film. But you shouldn't care. I'm serious. If you love your sanity, you will not watch this movie. If you are in a room where it's being shown and you think about 45 minutes in, "Hmmm. I wonder if this will get any better?" I can tell you, you cannot imagine how much worse it gets. This is so close to the worst movie ever made that it may well win that award if and when the hoomuns become fully aware. See it at your own peril.