Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 7, 2017)
A tale of survival among public utility workers, 2016’s Life On the Line takes us to rural Texas. There we meet Beau Ginner (John Travolta), an electrical lineman who took in his niece Bailey (Kate Bosworth) when her parents died in 1999. Bailey dates another lineman named Duncan (Devon Sawa), a fact that displeases Beau because he views Duncan’s family with disapproval.
These matters brew under the surface as calamity heads toward Beau and the others. Beau, Duncan and company need to upgrade the lines before storm season hits, a task that puts them in harm’s way.
Back in the 1970s, Travolta became a huge star due to two breakout hits: 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and 1978’s Grease. After that, he largely frittered away his success with a series of poor movies.
Travolta managed a major comeback with 1994’s Pulp Fiction, and that catapulted him back to “A”-level status – for a while, at least. Once again, Travolta’s instincts failed him, as a mix of bad films saw his star plummet anew.
Will Travolta summon another comeback? Possibly, though his advancing age makes this less likely – not a lot of actors re-enter “A”-list territory in their 60s.
If Travolta does find a way to re-engage the viewing public, he’ll have to do so without Line. A feeble attempt at an action movie, Line flails from one scene to another without much coherence.
Really, a flick such as Line doesn’t need to do a lot to satisfy the audience. A tale like this should provide moderately engaging characters and a surfeit of dynamic thrill sequences – that would be enough to do the trick.
Unfortunately, Line comes heavy on melodrama and light on thrills. The end result bores a lot more than it stimulates.
One fatal flaw comes from the amount of time it takes for Line to generate any potential excitement. With subtitles such as “5 Days Until the Storm”, the film constantly teases us with the promise of disaster to come – and eventually it does.
Most viewers will have nodded off by the time calamity hits, however, as Line takes more than an hour (!) before the violent weather finally arrives, and it does virtually nothing to engage the audience during the long lead-up. Sure, we get to know Beau, Bailey, Duncan and a mix of others, but we don’t feel like they ever become more than cardboard cutouts.
Line makes no efforts to invest in believable characters. From Beau to Bailey to everyone else all down the line, each and every role feels one-dimensional and thin. These roles lean “soap opera” and fail to create viewer interest.
The film really does like its melodrama. Again, we don’t need a lot of character dimensionality for a movie such as this – a little exposition works fine, as the threats to the linemen should be enough to prompt our interest.
Instead, Line appears to fashion itself as a character drama with action flourishes, and that approach flops. Perhaps a better-developed set of personalities would overcome the length of time it takes for us to get to the action sequences, but given the turgid nature of the exposition, this becomes a slow, dull ride.
Once we do finally get to the weather-related theatrics, Line still sputters. While we want to embrace death-defying action, instead we continue to focus on melodramatic character nonsense. The film resolutely, persistently refuses to provide the viewer with the exciting content that the tale promises.
Stuck with all these issues, the actors can’t do anything to elevate the material. Travolta sports one of the cheesiest attempts at a Texas accent on record, and everyone else sleepwalks through their underwritten parts.
Sawa and Bosworth both seem awfully old for their roles. As depicted, both Bailey and Duncan feel like characters in their early 20s, not mid-30s. While the movie semi-attempts to explain away their “advanced ages”, this doesn’t work – the parts would make more sense with younger actors.
That’s a minor complaint in a movie that comes with so many other failings, though. I went into Life On the Line with low expectations and just hoped to find something that gave me a decent Twister-style action flick, but instead, I got a stinker. Dopey and overwrought at every turn, the movie flops.