Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ground Control

24 couldn’t have come along at a better time if GROUND CONTROL is indicative of the projects Kiefer Sutherland found himself in before playing the lead in Fox’s innovative hit drama series. Filmed very cheaply by first-and-last-time director Richard Howard, whose idea of an air traffic tower is a completely black set with a couple of computer consoles, GROUND CONTROL is filled with good actors forced to utter technical gobbledygook in lieu of interesting dialogue.

Four years after a plane he was guiding crashed, killing everyone on board (it wasn’t his fault), air traffic controller Sutherland is recruited by his old boss Bruce McGill (ANIMAL HOUSE) to help out on an understaffed and overworked New Year’s Eve. After the accident, Sutherland became a burnt-out drunk, but a divorce, rehabilitation, and a new job designing computer software seems to have helped him overcome his guilt. But is he ready to jump back into the saddle during a night filled with power outages, poor weather, little support, and competition from a cocky younger controller (Robert Sean Leonard)?

You’d think a night among air traffic controllers would be more exciting than what Howard shows us, but he’s so bereft of ideas, he even throws in an unnecessary subplot involving a numbers-crunching safety inspector (FAMILY TIES dad Michael Gross) trying to fire a controller (Charles Fleischer) who freaks out under pressure. Sutherland’s quiet desperation seems like an audition for 24’s on-the-move Jack Bauer, but the best performance is by Henry Winkler (HAPPY DAYS) as an engineer forced to keep the power on under a tight budget. The only reason to watch GROUND CONTROL is to see the cast, including Kelly McGillis (WITNESS), Kristy Swanson (DEADLY FRIEND), and Margaret Cho (DROP DEAD DIVA), working together, although it’s too bad none of them had anything better to do.

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