Also known as Jet, Ground Control was a 1998 Kiefer Sutherland flick about a disgraced ex-air traffic controller called back in to help manage a particularly difficult situation. The film sounded like it could offer some cheap Airport 1975 or Die Hard 2-style entertainment.
Man did it not do that, like, at all.
As it turns out, the entire film was made to show how difficult air traffic controllers' jobs are, having to monitor several aircrafts on several different paths just by looking at abstract Atari-style monitors. It's a fair enough endeavour but this was also meant to be a film and in terms of drama and excitement, Ground Control is about as fun as a night spent sleeping on one of those uncomfortable airport seats. If you close your eyes and listen to Kiefer Sutherland's voice speaking over the score, you could fool yourself into believing you were watching the worst season of 24 ever made but even that would have been miles better than what the film offers us. Yes, air-traffic controllers have a hard job but is it really visually a film-worthy setting? No. It's a bunch of people speaking on headsets, saying numbers and letters looking at a screen which, unless you're a pilot or an air traffic controller yourself, won't mean anything to you. Perhaps if they'd intercut that with stuff happening on the planes themselves more often, set a terrorist plot on one of them or even created an ensemble piece following and developing various characters both on the ground and in the air you could have had a solid thriller here instead of what feels like a lecture about something you might not be all that interested in.
Unfortunately, all the drama takes place in this one control room and the film never really (pun intended) takes off because of that. Sutherland's story is clichéd and not all that convincing, the film essentially doing that whole "back for one last job" thing but in a criminally lifeless setting. A love interest is thrown in as well as the obligatory douchey colleague but they're hardly significant enough to be truly involving characters. The film is qualified on its DVD and on Wikipedia as a "disaster thriller" but I find its more of a TV-style drama than anything else. Disaster-wise, there is one which takes place during the opening scene but it's entirely off-camera so it really has no direct impact. A similar thing is threatened to happen in the film's last half hour but it's soon aborted so we're never really given a visual representation of the magnitude of such a disaster. Besides, this happens much, much too late. Henry Winkler is also in this movie as some kind of technician who has problems with the equipment the air traffic controllers are working with: he's completely underused and it's actually surprising he's even in this seeing as anyone could have pretty much played such a minor role. The main problem with Ground Control is its lack of urgency and gripping drama. The film moves at a sluggish pace and it's really hard to care about those forgettable characters and their allegedly perilous off-shot mission. Some reveals and twists would have been nice, or, at the very least, a plot going beyond just being a day-in-the-life of people you wouldn't want to even share an elevator with. Why not have a bad guy try and sabotage the whole place where Sutherland and co. work, then get them to trick him and land these planes at the last second?
I don't know...
Something like that!
Ground Control is a well-meaning film which admittedly cares about its subject matter and wants to honour a certain occupation which is often overlooked in general media. Unfortunately, the subject lends itself more to radio plays than film and a weak, clichéd script leaves us with what feels like a late night TV movie your grandfather might fall asleep to, ultimately not capturing the impact it should have done and failing to make the premise work cinematically.