‘Amelia’ intrigue doesn’t stay airborne

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, October 22, 2009 10:05pm
  • Life

When she vanished somewhere in the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart flew from heroine to myth.

Her mysterious end turns out to be just about the only real draw to a new biopic, “Amelia.”

Hilary Swank, with her sincerity and her toothy smile, is apt casting for the Kansas-born aviatrix. But not much else feels right in this once-over-lightly account of a somewhat enigmatic life.

We begin around the time Earhart is engaged for a publicity stunt: She’ll ride along with a pilot and engineer for a transatlantic flight, becoming the first woman to fly across the ocean (albeit as a passenger, not a pilot).

This 1928 episode (a year after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across) launches Earhart as a public figure and also begins her relationship with publisher George Putnam, played by Richard Gere.

The depiction of this flight, as well as her 1932 solo transatlantic flight, are absorbing enough in the manner of a good documentary. Those were fascinating feats — a lot of people died trying to do similar things, and Earhart’s courage was real.

“Amelia” also tries to make a case for Earhart as an unconventional feminist ahead of her time, although this comes in small doses.

An affair with Eugene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) is depicted, although there’s almost no hint of why these two got together while Amelia was married; it’s as though the filmmakers were so skittish about Earhart appearing less than completely sympathetic, they simply tried to breeze through these things as quickly as possible.

Vidal’s son, Gore, is included in the story, although one senses that’s only because he would someday be the famous writer. Ditto the cameo by Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones), who is around to assure us of Earhart’s celebrity.

This film is directed by Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”), but it feels like a committee job. The overall blandness is best suited to a TV production, and at times the dialogue is woefully clumsy — even the voice of the newsreel reporter isn’t convincing.

Earhart’s final attempt at a round-the-world journey is decently staged and its mysterious finish can’t help but intrigue. But this is mostly because of the facts of the event, not because of anything special “Amelia” has done to earn our interest.

Almost any documentary account of Amelia Earhart’s life will be more engaging than this strangely unengaging movie.

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