The aerial photography in this biopic looks slick, as does two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as the rangy pioneer aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who went missing in 1937 while trying to circumnavigate the globe in her flying machine. But, oh mama, the minute the characters open their mouths, the onslaught of clichés brings the movie down in flames. The god-awful script by Ron Bass (Rain Man) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (Gorillas in the Mist) is assaultive in its insistence that “dreams have no boundaries” and other sentiments that even Hallmark would reject as too fucking much. “Who wants a life imprisoned in safety?” Amelia asks in a voice-over. And you want to shout, “This movie does, honey. There’s not a real or spontaneous minute in it.
Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) is too good to let this happen. So I’m just going to assume she was coerced by no-taste producers. No way could Amelia’s life have been this deadly dull. And the love triangle the screenplay cooks up would fail a test in elementary chemistry. Amelia marries publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), who markets her career to fund her flights, but she sneaks off with aeronautics whiz Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). Did I just make this sound interesting? Forgive me. Amelia strikes more sparks with Gene’s little boy, who grows up to be — ready? — Gore Vidal. If only Gore could have injected some of his literate mischief into this platitudinous invitation to dozing.
The flying scenes — postcard-pretty images from cinematographertuart Dryburgh, lathered up by Gabriel Yared’s sudsy score — vie with relentless close-ups of Swank in the cockpit of her twin-engine Lockheed L-10 Electra ing into space at what — a better script? Who could blame her? Amelia, the Kansas tomboy, changed aviation. Her sometimes reckless insistence on breaking boundaries coaxed women into flying planes as well as wearingrendy trousers. But innovation takes a back seat to endless visions of Swank smiling through as she and her navigator (Christopher Eccleston, in the film’s best and unfussiest performance) are last seen flying over the Pacific. The fact that Amelia’s plane and body were never found remains a lasting mystery. The only mystery about this waxwork of a movie is why it was ever made.