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"THE 15:17 TO PARIS"
(2018) (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler) (PG-13)

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Drama: After growing up together since they were kids, three friends must contend with a terrorist who threatens to kill them and everyone on their train.
Spencer Stone (SPENCER STONE), Anthony Sadler (ANTHONY SADLER), and Alek Skarlatos (ALEK SKARLATOS) have been friends for years after realizing they were kindred spirits in middle school (played by WILLIAM JENNINGS, PAUL-MIKEL WILLIAMS, and BRYCE GHEISAR respectively) and were often sent to the principal's office together.

As young men, Spencer has decided to join the Air Force while Alek is serving in Afghanistan and they decide they should vacation with Anthony in Europe over the summer. Having fun in various countries, they board a train headed from Amsterdam to Paris, unaware that a heavily armed terrorist has also gotten on the train with the intention of killing everyone. From that point on, the three friends do what they must to control the situation and save everyone.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
While those in the military, police departments, fire departments and emergency medical service operations save lives all of the time, ordinary people also do heroic things every day. I imagine there are dozens if not hundreds of instances around the clock where people pull or push others out of harm's way in terms of avoiding being hit by vehicles, falling objects and so on.

Notwithstanding the adrenaline rush and smiles, pats on the back and "thank you" compliments from those saved as well as bystanders, they go about their business with their heroism usually never going beyond later conversations by those who were there. Sometimes, however, when more than one life is saved, those acts make it onto the news and those do-gooders must often contend with being labeled as heroes as well as all of the publicity baggage that sometimes comes with that.

A prime example was US Airways pilot Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who managed to avoid a major air catastrophe by landing his Airbus A320-214 in the Hudson River and save not only his own life, but also that of 154 other crew members and passengers. It was such a big deal that Clint Eastwood turned that newsworthy event into the 2016 movie "Sully" and convinced none other than Tom Hanks to play the title part.

Sticking with the heroes of transportation theme, the 87-year-old director has now tackled another such story in "The 15:17 to Paris." It's based on the true-life event where long-time friends Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos were on board the Thalys train 9364 heading from Amsterdam to Paris.

Unbeknownst to them, 25-year-old Ayoub El Khazzani was also a passenger, albeit one armed with an AKM assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition. Stone and his friends jumped into action, subdued the terrorist and likely saved the lives of many of the more than 500 passengers and crew on the train.

Much like the airplane event, the pivotal action -- if you will -- only spanned a few minutes and thus the question that many would likely ask is how one could flesh out enough story to turn that into a feature-length film. In "Sully," Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki did so not only with the standard lead-up to the event, but also the subsequent investigation that called into question whether the hero, notwithstanding his success, actually did what he should have done and was trained to do. All of which results in a decent dramatic quandary from which the film could rise, along with repeated flashbacks to the main event as seen from different angles and perspectives.

Here, Eastwood and first-time screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal -- who's adapted the autobiography "The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers" (written by Stone, Sadler, Skarlatos and Jeffrey E. Stern) -- tease the pivotal moment via some foreshadowing, but otherwise tell the life stories, to some degree, of those three men, eventually leading up to them getting on that train. It's a storytelling tactic that's been used time and time again and is something that can work if that earlier material is interesting or engaging.

Alas, it really isn't here as there's practically no real drama as we watch the boys (William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar and Paul-MikÚl Williams playing younger versions of the men) in middle school where they don't fit in and aren't respectful of their teachers. That's followed by views of the young men getting on with their lives, mainly focusing on Spencer trying to make the grade in the Air Force. All of which means viewers will sit around a long time waiting for the big event to arrive, sort of like standing in switchback cue lines for some amusement park ride that will be exciting, but also over in just a few minutes.

And thus about the only intriguing thing left for the film is that Eastwood opted not to go the standard route of hiring actors to play the three men (it's been reported that they jokingly thought Chris Hemsworth, Zac Efron, and Michael B. Jordan would be perfect to portray them). Instead, he decided to have them play themselves, a rare and potentially disastrous "casting" tactic since none of the three had any acting experience, and in that world, there's little that's more difficult than playing yourself on camera.

Thankfully, the three do a decent enough job that anyone not realizing they're the real deal won't know that's what they're seeing. But the dialogue they're saddled with is too on the nose when not awful or simply uneventful.

The same holds true for many scenes that simply don't amount to anything (including all of the vacation sequences in various parts of Europe), could have been jettisoned with absolutely no ill effect (beyond shortening the flick which would have been a godsend) and end up giving the term "filler" a bad name. While the pivotal event is gripping, it's only a few minutes long and simply isn't reason enough to try to build an entire film around it.

I sort of get what Eastwood and company were going for in terms of the ordinary guys leading ordinary lives back-story that leads them up to that moment, but all of that is arguably some of the most boring material you'll ever see put on film.

Thankfully James Cameron already beat Eastwood to the punch with a certain famous ship's sinking so we don't have to look forward to installment number three of transportation heroes trilogy. The real-life guys deserve kudos for their real-life heroics, but the film about them does not. "The 15:17 to Paris" feels like it's going nowhere slowly and thus rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed February 9, 2018 / Posted February 9, 2018

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