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AUTOPILOT CITY

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It says something about this film's ambitions that the best its heroine can hope for is to tell international travelers to return their seat-back trays to their original upright position.

Or maybe it says something about screenwriter Eric Wald, who appears to be snickering behind the scenes at the lower-class characters in this low-rent flick. He never gets tired of making jokes at the expense of easy targets - small-town folk, the elderly and disabled, mincing gay men, and Cleveland.

Wald wrote this script while in film school, and it plays like the Cliffs Notes version of classic Hollywood structure: the outline of a plot rather than an actual story. After getting dumped by her high school sweetheart, Donna (Paltrow) lands a job with a two-bit commuter airline, where she's forced to wear an inflammable-looking outfit so unflattering that it even makes co-star Kelly Preston look bad. Paltrow dreams of wearing natural fibers and riding airplanes without propellers, so she enlists with an airline whose star flight attendant went on to marry a rich passenger and write a bestselling self-help book about the experience.

But just before shuttling off to stewardess boot camp, Donna meets a charming man who dropped out of law school and "decided I'd look for the thing that made me most happy." They make doe eyes at each other, but Donna's gone before they can kiss hello/goodbye. The rest of the story is an Oprah Generation parable about following your heart.

It's difficult to imagine even talk-show junkies mustering much interest in this rote should-I-stay storyline, which comes to a head in an emotionless confrontation with Donna's beau, Ted, played by Mark Ruffalo — a fine actor who has been stuck with some DOA roles since You Can Count On Me. (In the film's second-most-dramatic scene, Donna learns that her best buddy stole some hand soap from a party.)

If the script, acting, and direction can't convince you that Paltrow's Donna is rilly, rilly conflicted, the filmmakers drape most of the story's middle 30 minutes in variations on Cyndi Lauper's tearful "Time After Time." In this film's world, trailer-raised gals can't afford current pop songs to go with their heartaches, or their fantasies, either: The movie begins and ends with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," and manages to squeeze

VIEW FROM THE TOP
Dir. Bruno Barreto; Writ. Eric Wald; Feat. Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Mark Ruffalo, Kelly Preston, Mike Myers, Candice Bergen (PG-13)
the inspirational Bon Jovi anthem "Livin' on a Prayer" somewhere in the middle. Yes, the film has been sitting on the studio's "do we really have to release this one?" shelf for a while, but it wasn't shot that long ago.

When View isn't busy with melodrama and inspirational fables, it pads its screen time with off-target slapstick. Mike Myers makes an appearance as a training instructor whose eyes point in different directions and beats the gag into the ground. Donna's buddy Christine (Applegate) turns on her in a third-act catfight, and tries to beat Donna into the ground.

Maybe Miramax chose this moment to release View because the recent Catch Me if You Can made airline work look glamorous again. Maybe they thought that, with their name attached to a few hundred Oscar nominations last weekend, nobody would notice a little schlock slipped between the cracks. Whatever the reasoning, here's hoping this dud is grounded without taking too many acting careers with it. •

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