John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton play a dangerous game of one-upmanship set against the hyper-stressed environment of the Long Island air traffic control facility.
According to a Federal Aviation Authority spokesman, the current air traffic control system is '99.4 per cent reliable'. Given director Mike Newell's previous output ('Four Weddings And A Funeral', 'Donnie Brasco'), his own dependability rating might, by statistically minded pundits, have been calculated as similarly high.
Unfortunately, despite promising ingredients, Pushing Tin brings the average down a bit. It's hardly comparable to ditching a Jumbo-load of Japanese tourists into the Hudson, but it fails to sustain the Club Class refinements we might have expected from Newell.
The basic high (flying) concept is sound enough - John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton play a dangerous game of one-upmanship set against the hyper-stressed environment of the Long Island air traffic control facility - but an adherence to the conventions of slick Hollywood comedy-drama goes down as smoothly as a bout of clear air turbulence.
Cusack, essaying another charming cocky bastard, is Nick Falzone, top dog at the chaotic Terminal Radar Approach Control Center on Long Island, who 'pushes tin' in the crowded skies above New York's three international airports. A fly in his caffeine-and-machismo-fuelled ointment arrives in the shape of Russell Bell (Thornton), whose Zen-like mastery of the radar scopes poses a threat to Nick's jealously-guarded supremacy.
The resultant sparring between Cusack and Thornton is, of course, a joy, and the manic energy in the TRACON operations room is skilfully conveyed. But, with wearying predictability, the romantic entanglements soon kick in. Triggered by Nick sleeping with Russell's wife (Jolie, whose pneumatic lips look not so much bee-stung as attacked by a swarm of hornets), and complicated by Russell making a half-hearted retaliatory play for Nick's old lady (Blanchett), these are unconvincingly strained.
It's not long before the fraught business of guiding planes safely onto the ground becomes a hackneyed metaphor for the protagonists' personal lives. Intended plot boosters, like a tacked-on bomb threat, fall flat and the crassly contrived finale marks this as a film sorely in need of an upgrade.
Joyful performances in a film that finally falls short due to the contrived and hackneyed finale.