Look up in the sky... it's a cliché flying by

PUBLISHED: 15:43 10 June 2007 | UPDATED: 14:34 07 September 2010

Flyboys (12A) Director Tony Bill Starring James Franco, Martin Henderson, David Ellison, Jennifer Decker, Abdul Salis, Jean Reno 138 mins Three star rating At the start of the film it announces proudly it is based on the true story but much of what fol

Flyboys (12A)

Director Tony Bill

Starring James Franco, Martin Henderson, David Ellison, Jennifer Decker, Abdul Salis, Jean Reno

138 mins

Three star rating

At the start of the film it announces proudly it is "based on the true story" but much of what follows is so cliché-ridden and wildly improbable I wondered if the

true story it was based on was anything more than the one about there being a First World War in which pilots flew in planes and shot at each other.

In fact, it's the tale of the Lafayette Escadrille, a French squadron made up of young Americans who volunteered to fight against the Germans before their country had decided to enter the war. The group arrives all cocky and gung ho but are immediately informed by the cynical veteran Cassidy (Henderson) that this is not going to be like their heroic fantasies - fighter pilots have an average life expectancy of six weeks.

Except it couldn't be more of

an heroic fantasy if they were all called Biggles and smoked a pipe while flying. At the start, we

see five pilots from different backgrounds and their paths towards joining the Lafayette.

But any notions that this will be

a gritty tale of how groups of young men cope in extreme circumstances quickly fall away. This is very much a star vehicle for James Franco, the young actor who has the look of a young Matt Dillon and is generally the weak link in any Spider-Man film.

It's a basic of screenwriting that you give the star everything and they certainly load Franco up with stuff to do. He has a chaste little romance with a French farm girl, always speaks up for the group and gets the lion's share of the heroics.

Of course, the crux of the film is the aerial sequences and although the production did have replica planes that they flew and filmed in, the dogfights look almost entirely computer generated. Not perhaps out of the very top draw but impressive enough for a medium-range budget film and generally very exciting. They do sit oddly with a film that is so thoroughly old-fashioned with its simplistic characterisation and driving, over-emphatic music score. It's as if we're in a parallel universe where CGIs were developed in the 1950s.

Flyboys is risible old tosh. However, the longer it went on, the more I found myself carried along by its guileless enthusiasm, chortling away happily to myself as each shameless cliché played itself out.

Youngsters will doubtless find it all a bit sad but it may appeal to an older audience. If you like the rat-a-tat-tat of the old machine guns, films where ace pilots nod tersely at each other from the cockpit of their plane or the villain is a smirking, sneering German pilot who likes to fly alongside his wounded enemies, gloating before he does away with them, than this could be a chocks away for you.

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