[Screen It]


(1999) (John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Extreme Mild Minor
Moderate None Minor None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
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Talk About
Heavy Mild Heavy Moderate Mild

Drama/Comedy: Two hotshot air traffic controllers compete against each other trying to prove who's the best between them.
Nick Falzone (JOHN CUSACK) is a hotshot air traffic controller at New York's Terminal Radar Approach Control center (TRACON) where he and his coworkers, including after work buddies Barry Plotkin (JAKE WEBER) and Tina Leary (VICKI LEWIS), face unbelievable amounts of stress as they try to coordinate the arrival and departure of planes at three nearby airports.

Nick is the best at what he does, but he still manages to find time for his faithful wife, Connie (CATE BLANCHETT) and their two kids. Things change, however, when a new gung-ho controller, Russell Bell (BILLY BOB THORNTON), arrives and immediately proves he's just as adept at taking risks as is Nick.

A mostly reserved man who's married to a boozing and near sluttish younger wife, Mary Bell (ANGELINE JOLIE), Russell quickly rises to the occasion to compete against Nick and constantly proves he's the better man. This competition reaches new heights, however, when Nick and Mary end up in bed. From that point on, Nick's life begins to unravel as he worries about the repercussions of that act and his wife's newfound interest in Russell.

Teens might, as will fans of Cusack and Thornton, but this one doesn't seem to have much "buzz" about it to draw in the kids.
For language and a scene of sexuality.
  • JOHN CUSACK plays a hotshot air traffic controller whose intense competitive spirit inevitably gets him in trouble when he ends up having an affair that damages his personal and professional life. Along the way he drinks and cusses some and occasionally drives like a madman.
  • BILLY BOB THORNTON plays his new competitor, a controller not above assigning risky flight patterns just to prove what a hotshot he is. He also cusses some and inexplicably leaves his wife unattended over some nights, causing her some duress.
  • CATE BLANCHETT plays Nick's devoted wife who's understandably upset upon learning of his philandering ways.
  • ANGELINE JOLIE plays Russell's sexy wife who has a drinking problem and has a one- night affair with Nick and uses brief, but strong profanity.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    Long a staple on television since its inception, sitcoms -- by their very definition -- are programs where humor is derived from their characters' reactions to events surrounding the specific situational premise. Whether they're a show about four characters doing nothing in New York ("Seinfeld") or the wacky adventures of a 50's housewife ("I Love Lucy"), such programs can be real gems, but conversely can also stink and disappear without much notice.

    While there have been plenty of creative forces behind the successes, few are as well respected -- or for that matter, as successful -- as Glen and Les Charles. On early shows such as "M*A*S*H" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the brotherly team honed their skills that then led them to create, produce and write for the fabulous ensemble sitcoms "Taxi" and "Cheers."

    Now they've taken their formidable talent and skills to the big screen with the release of 20th Century Fox's "Pushing Tin." Based on writer Darcy Frey's 1996 New York Times Sunday Magazine article, "Something's Got to Give," that focused on the careers, related stress and personal lives of some powerful, but unseen and little respected air traffic controllers, the film feels like a sitcom that's been stretched a bit too thin trying to fill its near two-hour runtime.

    Only occasionally funny but mostly interesting throughout, the Charles brothers and director Mike Newell ("Donnie Brasco," "Four Wedding and a Funeral") have taken a relatively unexplored subject/occupation -- which contains lots of understandable stress but seemingly limited comedic potential -- and mostly made it work, although at times some events feel a bit more manufactured than naturally occurring.

    Even so, shows about cab drivers or bar employees and their customers didn't initially seem like they had much potential or would become such classics, but they still managed to work out for the best of everyone involved in the end.

    Part of the reason for that, however, was that we the audience got a chance to get acclimated and familiar -- with each weekly episode -- to the premise, the characters, and the situational humor that subsequently arose. Here we're not allowed those luxuries. To further that problem, the supporting controller characters are not developed, are barely differentiated, and are mainly present just to fill seats.

    As such, we neither know much nor care anything about them, thus causing a bodybuilding performance scene featuring Vicki Lewis (of TV's "NewsRadio") to fail to strike the proper chords as it might have had it featured the more familiar Diane "Cheers" Chambers or Elaine "Taxi" Nardo.

    Another problem is with the film's tone as it never stays true to its course. Sometimes the scenes are occasionally goofy or far-fetched, such as when all of the air traffic controllers converge behind one operator to alternatively harass or support a harried colleague -- as if no other planes mattered at that moment, or bet on whether a former employee who had a nervous breakdown can even make it back to the front door.

    At other times, such humor doesn't go far enough. Since these two guys are such deep-rooted competitors, and we see a few brief instances of their competitive nature -- in fact, that's when the film is the most fun -- one expects it will continue throughout the film.

    Unfortunately it doesn't and what should have been the comedic pièce de résistance -- each trying to steal the other's wife -- instead becomes something of an accidental occurrence. That then spins the film around into an entirely different direction, and while this new route offers some limited comedic potential, the film never really survives the transition.

    From that point on the events steadily become more contrived and include a peculiar suspense scene that comes out of the blue (which could have been acceptable had some foreshadowing preceded it), as well as a tack-on, supposedly audience pleasing finale that reeks of Hollywood good cheer.

    Fortunately for the film, the presence and performances from the two leads and the actresses who play their wives lift this production from such tedium and otherwise mediocre "sitcom-dom." John Cusack ("Grosse Point Blank," "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil") is as good and enjoyable as ever and makes his character believable throughout the film, notwithstanding the later developmental problems.

    Billy Bob Thornton ("Primary Colors," "Sling Blade") -- who's becoming such a chameleon-like performer that it's a blast just to see what he'll look like with each subsequent film -- is also quite good in a performance that's refreshingly subdued for such an otherwise competitive character.

    Winning the award for the most amazing performance transformation from one film to the next, Cate Blanchett ("Oscar and Lucinda") confidently tosses aside the monarchistic trappings of her Oscar nominated turn in "Elisabeth" to convincingly play the increasingly distraught Long Island wife. It's a nice turn for her and good to see that she's not typecast in period roles.

    Meanwhile the always compelling and stunning Angeline Jolie ("Playing By Heart," "Gia") delivers another intriguing performance as a boozing, minxish wife who serves as the catalyst for the film's unfortunate turning point. Other supporting performances are fine, but are hampered by sketchily drawn characters.

    While the film isn't anywhere in the same ballpark as "M*A*S*H" -- to which it has and will continue to be compared since both deal with egotistical characters working side by side under extreme duress -- and doesn't have the successful character camaraderie it tries to evoke, the film is still interesting and different enough to make it worthwhile. Throw in the good performances from the leads and you've got a picture that mostly manages to transcend its lingering sitcom-like origins. While not quite as funny or wild as we would have liked or imagined, "Pushing Tin" is enjoyable enough to warrant a 6 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity is extreme due to the use of least 11 "f" words as well as other profanities and colorful phrases. Two of the characters have an affair (a one night stand) and although we don't see the act, we see glimpses of the woman's bare breasts. Another implied sexual encounter between a husband and wife occurs (we see them afterwards as well) as do some brief sexually related comments.

    Beyond the bad attitudes associated with the affair, the two leads are gung-ho risk takers who think that they have to compete against one another, leading to some behavior that kids may want to imitate. Some smoking occurs, while a moderate amount of drinking also does, with a few of the characters appearing to have had enough to make them inebriated to some extent.

    A few scenes involving close calls of airplanes hitting other planes (mostly seen on the control panels) may be a little tense to some viewers, while some limited violence also occurs. Beyond that, however, the remaining categories are relatively void of major objectionable content, but you should more closely read what's been listed should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for anyone in your home.

  • Nick and his fellow controllers have drinks in a bar.
  • People have beer at a barbeque and Nick serves mixed drinks to others, including Mary and she later comes back for another drink.
  • Nick runs into Mary in a grocery store where she has three bottles of vodka in her cart.
  • People have drinks in a restaurant, including Nick and Mary who have many glasses of wine. Later, when they leave to drive home, she asks if he can follow her since she's had quite a bit to drink (and so both drive to her place somewhat inebriated).
  • Russell mentions that he used to be an alcoholic.
  • Nick drinks wine straight from the container.
  • Mary drinks from a flask.
  • We see Nick and Barry drinking from a brown paper bag in an auditorium.
  • We see several empty mini bottles of liquor in front of Nick and Connie on a plane.
  • Nick drinks a beer and other people have drinks in a bar.
  • We see Nick drinking at home and then see that he's had quite a few.
  • Nick has some slightly bloody scratches on his head in one scene.
  • Nick and Mary have both for having a one-night stand, and Nick mentions that he hasn't been the best husband and suggests that he may have done this sort of thing before. He then gets jealous and mad at Connie thinking that she may have done the same thing.
  • Nick and Russell have both for always wanting to one-up the other.
  • Someone refers to Russell -- who's half Indian -- as "half breed" and in another scene his coworkers do a tomahawk chop motion with their arms to tease/taunt him while he works.
  • Some of the guys ogle Mary and wonder how a woman like her could be with a guy like Russell.
  • Nick and the others hear that someone has called in a bomb threat, but the explosive never materializes.
  • A scene has the controllers watching and trying to divert two planes on a collision course (seen on their scopes).
  • In another similar scene, Russell squeezes several planes into the same airspace while warning lights and alarms go off (also seen only on their scopes).
  • We briefly see two planes nearly collide in midair.
  • As the clock ticks down toward the detonation time of a previously announced bomb threat, Nick and Russell try to land some remaining planes.
  • The camera pauses on a sign in a restaurant that includes a drawing of a pistol in it.
  • Nick and the others hear that there's a bomb threat, but the explosive never materializes.
  • Phrases: "What the f*ck," "Sh*t box," "Screw around" and "Bop" (sexual), "Jeez," "Jerk," "Nuts" (crazy), "Bitch," "Greaseball" and "Kiss my ass."
  • Both Nick and Russell are hotshot guys who are very competitive and as such, Nick often drives very fast and weaves through traffic (including one scene where Russell stomps down on Nick's accelerator from the passenger seat). In another scene, Russell cuts off Nick with a left turn on his motorcycle from the center lane.
  • After everyone else has quit, Nick and Russell continue a contest to see who will hold a burning match the longest before extinguishing it (or it burns their fingers).
  • We twice see one or more characters stand on a runway and be swept away by the turbulent wake of a passing airliner (played for laughs and made to look like fun).
  • Nick and the others hear that someone has called in a bomb threat, but the explosive never materializes.
  • None.
  • A few scenes have just a bit of suspenseful music in them.
  • None.
  • At least 11 "f" words (2 used with "mother"), 15 "s" words, 1 slang term for breasts ("t*ts"), 10 asses (3 used with "hole"), 7 hells, 3 damns, 2 S.O.B.'s, and 4 uses of "G-damn" and 1 use each of "My God," "God," "Oh God," "Jesus Christ," "Oh Jesus," "Jesus" and "By God" as exclamations.
  • Talking about another woman, someone in Nick's group says something to the effect of "It's like sex with your wife..."
  • We briefly see a poster of a bikini-clad woman (with cleavage) on a wall in a restaurant.
  • A woman who sits with Nick and his coworkers shows some cleavage.
  • Just about to leave their home, Connie comes back to Nick to have sex. She tells him that they need to be fast, and he says, "It'll be like it never happened." He then carries her upstairs and we then see them afterwards, as she's finishing getting dressed (and we see some of her cleavage).
  • After he's asked if some kids on a tour are his, a tour guide says no, but then adds "When I was young I laid my share of pipe" (meaning sex). A student on the tour later refers to and repeats the end of that comment.
  • When Tina makes a positive comment about Russell (upon first meeting him), the others make fun of her and suggestively ask (among other things) if she'd like to bring him down her runway.
  • Mary wears a low-cut top that shows a lot of cleavage and Nick and the other men notice this, prompting one person to tell them, "Put 'em back in their holsters, boys." Later, the controller's wives ask (about Mary's breasts), "Do you think they're real?"
  • We see Nick and Mary in bed after they've had sex and see that her breasts have popped up out of her bra -- exposing her nipples. She also sits with one legged propped up (so that we see her bare, upper thigh).
  • As Russell sings in a restaurant, Mary is all over him, suggestively moving against his body.
  • Stating that he's also chased after women, Russell says, "I've been the one following the little pink panties down the hallway."
  • Barry asks Nick, "Did you bop Mary Bell?"
  • Connie tells Nick (probably just to rile him and not because of the truth) that she had sex with Russell and that "We did the deed. We went all over the house. We did it upside down...sideways...we should have worn helmets."
  • Barry smokes a few times, as do other controllers, a controller's wife and other miscellaneous characters.
  • Mary is upset that Russell often gets on his bike and leaves without saying where he's going or when he'll be back.
  • Connie's father dies and we briefly see the funeral.
  • Nick's affair causes much marital discord between him and Connie and she eventually leaves.
  • Air traffic controllers and their jobs.
  • The affair that Nick and Mary have and the repercussions of it.
  • The competitive nature between Nick and Russell and the repercussions of that.
  • Upset, Nick violently kicks Mary's car.
  • Connie repeatedly hits Nick upon learning of his affair.
  • Nick struggles with some flight attendants on a plane as he tries to get to the captain.
  • Nick kicks Russell to the floor and others then have to restrain him.
  • Russell and Nick struggle on the floor over the Indian feather Russell wears on his headset.

  • Reviewed April 19, 1999 / Posted April 23, 1999

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