On a Wing and a Prayer is a decent offering about faith, family, and aviation. As a former Army pilot, I’m always on the lookout for movies about flying. I’m especially keen on ones that explore the mental and emotional challenges associated with the profession. Mental challenges like being perpetually prepared to handle any and all emergencies. Emotional challenges like being supremely aware that things can go from mundane to Bane in a second despite all your training. It’s a lot to undertake! Films like Devotion (2022), Flight (2012), and Sully (2016) capture what I’m talking about. On a Wing and a Prayer ain’t exactly that, but it effectively communicates the gravity of flying that we may take for granted.
Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham come out of their respective witness protection programs to play Doug and Terri White. Doug and Terri White are real life people on which Sean McNamara, the film’s director, bases the movie’s story. On Easter Sunday 2009, Doug White, his wife, and their two daughters hop on a private jet to return home after attending a funeral for Doug’s brother. Less than 10 minutes after their King Air 200 takes off, the pilot dies of a heart attack. (Yikes!) Air traffic controllers and a flight instructor from Danbury, Connecticut coach Doug well enough to land the plane and avert tragedy. The film does a better job of building tension than I just did, but barely…I’m actually shocked at how vanilla the story of this movie is considering the true-life stakes…
And as I write this review, I realize that this movie is not nearly as good as I thought it was or wanted it to be. The opening scene gives you a beautiful shot of a big blue sky, but the CGI plane that dots it feels goofy. The wholesomeness that the film establishes at its very beginning feels like a schtick by the end. I would take the White family from Breaking Bad over this one because this one tastes too sugary sweet. And then there’s the elephant in the room: the movie’s firm, firm commitment to being Christian.
The cornerstone of the movie is the belief that God’s divine plan dictates every machination of your life. If something good happens, God willed it. If something bad happens, God willed it. That idea is the basis for at least half of the film’s scenes. (I could hear John Milton telling them to give it a rest 30 minutes in…) I will never judge anyone for their religious beliefs, but please don’t beat me over the head with them. Scenes where a character fails to reference God or church are few and far between in this movie, which is fine. But the incessant commitment to it makes the movie feel more like propaganda than biopic.
An interesting bit of trivia is that this film was originally set to be released theatrically last summer, but wound up becoming a Prime Video exclusive. The given reason for the change is wholly business-related. However, the movie is so hard to swallow after 45 minutes (if you’re not a Christian) that I can’t imagine that the overbearing weight of its religious message didn’t affect the decision. And if it feels like I’m belaboring the point, I am because the movie did. (I’m petty!) With all of that off my chest, there are some good things about this movie.
The film gets a lot of the technical aspects of American aviation right and it champions wholesome family values. It gives us very realistic air traffic control talk. There were times when I felt transported back into a UH-60 cockpit. There’s a cute physics lesson given by an aspiring pilot as she follows the White family drama on an open band radio. The score is fantastic. There are some classic old school jams dispersed throughout the runtime. And the chemistry between Quaid and Graham feels quite earnest and celebrates the synergy that makes a loving marriage work. Ultimately, On a Wing and a Prayer is a wholesome movie to watch with your family on a rainy Saturday.
On a Wing and Prayer starts streaming on Amazon Prime today.