Sky Fighters (2005) / Action-Adventure
aka Les Chevaliers du Ciel

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence, sexual references and some language
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Benoit Magimel, Clovis Cormillac, Geraldine Paihas, Philippe Torreton, , Rey Reyes, Alice Taglioni, Jean-Baptiste Puech, Omar Berdouni
Director: Gerard Pires
Screenplay: Gilles Malencon (very loosely inspired by the "Tanguy et Laverdure" comics by Jean-Michael Charlier and Albert Uderzo)
Review published July 29, 2006

Sky Fighters (the original French title literally translates to "The Knights of the Sky") is a French release emulating the look, sound, and overall vibe of the quintessential fighter pilot film, Top Gun.  It's not a remake per se, although there's no attempt to cover up the fact that it liberally plays in the sandbox built by the Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer populist classic, except with less of the gay subtext that the film has unintentionally become notorious for.  Although the source material on which his film claims to be based, the Charlier/Uderzo comic series, predates Top Gun by over 20 years, this film still has the Tom Cruise film's trite drama, buddy movie underpinnings, rock video atmosphere, and stylized quick-cut action. 

The story starts with the disappearance of a French-built fighter jet, the Mirage 2000, from a British air show.  Two French fighter pilots in the area, Captain Antoine "Walk'n" Machelli (Magimel, The Piano Teacher) and Captain Sebastien "Fahrenheit" Vallois (Cormillac, Brice de Nice), are sent in to try to retrieve it, if possible.  They find the rogue jet, but when the pilot of the plane gets aggressive and is about to fire, Machelli blows it out of the sky, contradicting a direct order to abort the mission.  In the public eye, the event is spun as an act of heroism, but behind the scenes, the French government is furious at the incident, booting them from the Navy.  However, great pilots are hard to come by, so Machelli and Vallois are soon recruited into the Special Missions unit to run a "Cannonball", a race through mostly foreign and hostile territory to see if the French will sell Mirages to a large arms dealer vs. the competing American F-16's.

Just as had been the case with Top Gun, the main asset of Sky FIghters primarily lies with the stellar aerial cinematography, allowing for an up close and personal view of some slick fighter jets performing complex maneuvers at high speeds and dangerously low altitudes.  Perhaps most impressive is that most of the best footage comes from the air, utilizing new technology and complicated mountings to capture some stunning footage rarely seen in a commercial release.  As was the case with Top Gun in the United States, the film was produced with the blessing and cooperation of the French Air Force, allowing the filmmakers unprecedented access to expensive military jet aircraft, as well as lending them the best pilots to fly the planes for the aerial scenes.  Amazingly, none of the fantastic in-air footage is enhanced by CGI, making the technical accomplishments of the filming crew infinitely more impressive,

Unfortunately, by capturing the essence of Top Gun in every major way, the filmmakers behind Sky Fighters also incorporated some of the same weaknesses.  Military life is overly glamorized, the romantic interests are highly superficial, and many of the main conflicts between the men and authority reside on a purely cartoonish level.  While the action is terrific, the drama in between the action is cheesy and unconvincing, but no different than most films that go for the glossy, not-too-serious vibe that is part and parcel of summer popcorn movie fare.

If you're a fan of Top Gun for any reason other than Tom Cruise's involvement, you'll probably enjoy Sky Fighters.  It's an inherently silly, yet still enjoyable action flick that is mindless almost to a fault, but goes down easy for those times when you want an action film without anything too heavy in delivery to bog it down.  Credit the slick direction by Gerard Pires (Riders, Taxi) for a faithful recreation without being a complete rip-off, so that, once again, young men can fantasize about how cool it must be to be a military fighter pilot, especially since the military and government agencies have no shortage of hot babes in high heels around.  It's all a big crock, but knowingly so, and like Top Gun had been back in 1986, it's one of the more enjoyable all-flash-no-substance movie releases of the year.

-- "The "Les Chevaliers du Ciel" comics have been previously adapted twice as TV series' in France in 1967 and 1988.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo