Les chevaliers du ciel [Sky Fighters] (2005)

(In theaters, February 2006) Oh yes, baby: Top Gun, French Mirage style! As a shameless attempt to replicate the boffo success of Hollywood blockbusters, Les chevaliers du ciel is more successful than most: Fast planes, competent protagonists, attractive female characters and superb cinematography… what could be better? Sure, the script is filled with howlers (the rationale behind the cannonball run, for instance, is ludicrous), but the rest of the film holds up so well and we almost know when the screenwriters are playing with us. While the ending is disappointing and some details don’t make much sense (of course, the American pilot paid her way through school by stripping; how kind of her to have kept up in shape), they don’t hold a candle to the fabulous aerial scenes. This is where the film shines, with eye-popping footage of fighter jets doing what they do best. Reportedly filmed without digital trickery, this techno-thriller kicks Stealth in the teeth and makes a proud statement for the French Air Force. As a certified plane nerd, I geeked out several times during the plentiful aerial sequence, including a deeply effective moment during which the beauty of multi-million supersonic flight is explored. It’s a welcome change to see some European hardware on-screen. Les chevaliers du ciel may have been conceptualized as a French answer to Top Gun, but it ends up as a challenge to Hollywood; now let’s see the Americans top that!

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