Control Nathan and Clint: Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014)

Toys! Just like in that infinitely better film series,  Toy Story !

Toys! Just like in that infinitely better film series, Toy Story!

I feel like my trademark as a podcaster so far, beyond shambling inarticulateness, is anger. My otherwise tranquil and Zen voice and demeanor become animated with righteous rage as I struggle to express the sheer ferocity of my hatred for a movie I’ve just seen for the podcast. 

I was not as perpetually apoplectic during my years as a film critic. Back when I made my living reviewing movies professionally I accepted that my job was to see bad movies and very occasionally good ones. So watching terrible movies movies was less a flaw than perhaps the defining feature of my fuzzily remembered, long-ago life as a full-time film critic. 

I guess you could say that I still make my living from watching and writing about terrible movies, since bad movies are the core of this website, and this website is how make my living. But it’s not the same. With the exception of Control Nathan Rabin 4.0, where the movies are chosen by patrons who make a one-time one hundred dollar pledge, I choose the movies that I see and write and talk about for the podcast and the website. 

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With Control Nathan Rabin and Control Nathan and Clint, I give patrons a choice between two movies I or Clint and I must watch, but I maintain a high level of control by choosing the options. True, the point of both columns is to generally to force me (and Clint) to see the worst, most unappealing films imaginable, but I get to at least choose which poison Clint and myself, or just myself, will be forced to consume

Yet I nevertheless find myself repeatedly getting angry to the point of grousing out loud and shouting at the screen about a lot of the movies I’ve seen for Control Nathan and Clint. Superman III pissed me the fuck off. Waiting filled me with contempt for everyone involved in its making. And Planes: Fire & Rescue, the sequel to a spin-off of the most reviled Pixar franchise made me angry but also bored, a toxic combination. 

It did not help that I saw the movie in between Inside Out, which I'm writing about for Lukewarm Takes, and The Incredibles 2, Pixar movies that succeed in saying something profound about the complexities, joys and sadness of the human condition in addition to being wildly entertaining. Planes: Fire & Rescue, in sharp contrast, just wants to provide passable entertainment for very small children and still fails. 

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Planes: Fire & Rescue is not, as many patrons assured me, a Pixar production. Oh sweet blessed Lord is it not a Pixar production. But it is a DisneyToons-produced spin-off of Cars that possesses all of the glaring flaws of the Cars franchise in unusually concentrated form and none of their modest virtues. 

2006's Cars at least looked gorgeous and perfectly cast film and racing icon Paul Newman as a legendary racer in what turned out to be his final role. The franchise should have ended with Newman’s death but if Pixar had yielded to decency it literally would have foregone ten billion dollars in merchandising on top of all those DVDs and Blu-Rays and ticket sales and theme park attractions and iPhone games and whatnot. 

2014’s Planes: Fire & Rescue—released a mere year after 2013’s Planes soared beneath even the exceedingly low bar audiences set for it—follows the adventures of the shittily named Dusty Crophopper (which, as my co-host Clint pointed out, sound like a porn name) following his victory in the Wings Across the Globe race in the first film, a movie I’m proud to say I did not waste my time watching. 

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There are many, many problems with the Cars franchise. The most insurmountable might just be the intense cognitive dissonance engendered by worlds where everything and everyone is a vehicle of some sort, car, truck, plane, ship or otherwise, yet there are no humans around to build these machines or to drive them. 

The first time I saw and heard a car talking in Cars my brain immediately rejected it. I have no problem watching movies or TV shows about monsters or grouches or robots or superheroes or space aliens but my brain simply rejects a sentient talking car as a protagonist and also the exclusively vehicular world he inhabits. 

That goes double for Planes: Fire & Rescue, particularly since Fire & Rescue asks us to become deeply emotionally invested in a fucking sentient hotshot crop-duster-turned-world-class-racer-turned-fire-fighter voiced by Dane fucking Cook. As in, that cocky, modestly talented but fiercely ambitious hack stand-up comedian who was maddeningly huge for a hot minute before the show business equivalent of a market correction downgraded his status from “mega-superstar” to “widely reviled has-been.” 

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The Cars franchise was getting all cocky about having the most annoying icon of terrible comedy possible in the form of Larry the Cable Guy, who voiced the series’ breakout star Tow-Mater. DisneyToons, saw that and was all, “Hold my beer.” 

In Planes: Fire & Rescue Dusty’s high-flying ways as a world-famous racing superstar come to a close when he damages his gearbox so badly that he’s not able to race anymore. Like a hopped-up Johnny Cash in the late 1960s, Dusty ends up accidentally causing a huge fire. Unlike Johnny Cash in the 1960s, Dusty then decides to segue into the world of fire-fighting.

Ed Harris leads a crazily over-qualified cast that includes Stacy Keach and Hal Holbrook as Blade Ranger, Dusty’s crusty mentor in the fire-fighting world. Blade Ranger was formerly an actor in CHoPs, a parody of CHiPs, before Nick ‘Loop’n Lopez (Erik Estrada), his costar, was killed during a stunt, leading his grief-stricken friend and professional colleague to become a firefighter so that he can save lives. 

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I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this here before but many years ago, when I was still in the entertainment business, I appeared on a poorly-rated, extremely disreputable Canadian basic-cable panel show called Switch, where my costars included Erik Estrada, who would not shut the fuck up about his new life as an actual law enforcement agent after appearing in a reality show called Armed & Famous, where he and other past-their-prime celebrities (including La Toya Jackson, Wee Man and Jack Osborne) got training as Reserve Police Officers in Muncie, Indiana. 

Estrada’s beat was cyber sex crimes involving children. I will never forget the cheeseball TV icon aggressively miming an adult sexually violating a baby to show us the kind of degenerate folks he deals with in his other job. 

So I was low-key delighted to see the professional and personal journey of an anthropomorphic talking plane voiced by the great Ed Harris echo that of Erik Estrada in a movie costarring Estrada that lovingly references his greatest professional triumph. 

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That low-key delight vanished immediately, however, as Planes: Fire & Rescue is almost unforgivably dull. The credits kick in around the seventy-four minute mark. Despite being a good forty, forty-five minutes shorter than The Incredibles 2, Fire & Rescue is so sluggishly paced that it feels twice as long as Brad Bird’s superhero extravaganza. 

Watching Planes: Fire & Rescue, I found myself thinking that a cheapo Asylum-style knock-off of Planes: Fire & Rescue probably would not be any worse than the real thing. Sure enough, while Pixar produces masterpieces much of the time, the folks over at DisneyToon produce direct-to-video sequels for the home market. Fire & Rescue is accordingly closer to DisneyToon's Return of Jafar than Disney’s Aladdin. 

The character design here is blocky and unappealing, the background boring and plain. Fire & Rescue has a fraction of the budget of an actual Pixar movie. It’s essentially another DisneyToon direct-to-video cheapie elevated to a theatrical release by children’s unending fascination with all things cars, planes or train-related. Kids love that shit, but I suspect Fire & Rescue would have bored the holy living fuck out of my three and a half year old son Declan. 

I like to think that every computer animated movie is at least a little bit entertaining if you’re high. Planes: Fire & Rescue illustrated that that’s not true. I can assure you the sequel is most assuredly not worth staying sober for. Hell, it’s not even worth staying awake for but I dutifully remained awake and cognizant the entire time I watched it. Call me a hero if you must. No, seriously. Call me a hero. You must. 

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Nevertheless, I am a big believer in singling out moments of pleasure in vast flaming wildernesses of tedium like Planes: Fire & Rescue. So I will concede that I very much enjoyed a fire-fighting set-piece set to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” exclusively because I love that fucking song, and associate it with the Chicago White Sox, as it gets played a lot at what I will always refer to as Comiskey Park, and I used to be a big White Sox fan, just like I used to be a film critic. 

The fire-fighting set-piece set to "Thunderstruck" reminded me of Suicide Squad. Like everyone, I was blown away by Slipknot, the guy who can climb stuff. But the very moderate amusement I derived from the movie was no different from that cheap, lazy buzz of recognition you experience at a bar when they play a bunch of songs you know and like on the jukebox. Suicide Squad’s soundtrack was full of jukebox favorites and monster hits of the 1970s recycled endlessly on oldies radio and on that level, and only that level, I mildly enjoyed at least one aspect of the film. 

I think often of the line in Ishtar where Jack Weston’s cagy agent tells Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty’s struggling musician characters, "Sing songs people already know. That way they'll still have something to applaud."

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It would be a great understatement to say that I merely disliked Planes: Fire & Rescue. It would be more accurate to say its laziness enraged me but thanks to Angus Young and the boys, watching Planes & Rescue was not a total loss, merely a near-total one. 

You know my steez: I make money watching movies like Planes: Fire & Rescue. Not a huge amount of money, necessarily, but I do okay and you support independent cinema and this here site over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace