Ground Control

Ground Control
Made in: USA
Language: English
Director: Richard Howard
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Bruce McGill, Robert Sean Leonard, Kelly McGillis, Kristy Swanson, Henry Winkler, Michael Gross, Margaret Cho, Ruben Paul, Farrah Forke
Year: 1998

Synopsis: Before he was Jack Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland once played Jack Harris, the best air traffic controller in the country. Maintaining the skies over Chicago's insanely busy O'Hare airport, Jack's career stalls then crashes when a passenger jet he's responsible for...well...stalls and crashes.

Five years later, he puts his life back together working as a software engineer in Phoenix, Arizona. His former supervisor, T.C. Bryant (Bruce McGill), who has continued working as an ATC, has also transferred to Phoenix. With the busy Christmas season in full swing, T.C tries to persuade Jack to come back into service for one night.

At first Jack refuses, but later agrees seeing that there'd be no story if he just decided to stay home. T.C. promises Jack that he won't have to guide airplanes- he'll just help out with secondary duties.

But with a heavy storm approaching and the ground control center operating on a skeleton crew, Jack finds himself back in the role of calling traffic. Other air traffic controllers include Julie (Kristy Swanson), a rookie, Cruise (Robert Sean Leonard), a skilled but cocky jerk, and Sam (Ruben Paul), the token black guy.

The Phoenix facility is under the command of Susan Stratton (Kelly McGillis), an overly ambitious type who insists on taking in an unusually large amount of aircraft to impress a senator. But trouble brews when multiple technical problems plague the facility, much to the chagrin of the head maintenance guy (played by Henry Winkler).

And then there's Murray (Michael Gross), the government bureaucrat who's obsessed with regulations and intent on jotting down every little safety violation.

As luck would have it, Jack finds himself having to confront his haunted past as they encounter a crippled aircraft.

The Good: Although predictable, Ground Control is pretty engaging. The story is simple and focused, and it's fun to see stars like Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Sean Leonard in a direct to video movie before they made it big elsewhere. The supporting cast is also full of recognizable faces like Henry Winkler and Margaret Cho.

The music score is very good as well, and at around 90 minutes the movie is just as long (or short) as it needs to be.

The Bad: The major problem of Ground Control is technical accuracy. Real-life air traffic controllers who saw the film pretty much trashed it, citing numerous errors in the use of jargon and the fact that Kiefer Sutherland is able to jump right back in to air traffic duties after five years without any re-certification.

But it doesn't take real air traffic control experience to notice that the film, with its low-budget production values (cheap sets and fake-looking visual effects), probably isn't representative of actual ground control operations.

Who would like this movie: Ground Control is pretty competent, and it's for anyone who's interested in seeing Kiefer Sutherland just before he made it big with 24. But be warned- there are no Jack Bauer moments and he doesn't yell in anyone's face (although it would have made the move a lot more fun).

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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