Dir: Gerard Pires. Fr. 2005. 102mins.

In Sky Fighters,two gung-ho French airforce pilots battle withterrorists out to commandeer a Mirage 2000 jet for a post-9/11 apocalypse overParis. But as with too many aviation pictures, Gerard Pires'$22m feature soars when it is airborne but is hobbled on the ground by stockmelodramatics and two-dimensional characters.

Though it looks likeFrance's belated answer to Top Gun,the feature is based on Tanguy & Laverdure,an enduringly popular comic-book title first created in the late 1950s. Theadventures of this eponymous aerial pair have since been spread over some 40collections for 45 years, also inspiring a TV seriesduring the late 1960s called LesChevaliers Du Ciel (strangely,the film-makers have kept the name of the TV series but changed the names ofthe heroes).

For his part Pires, a licensed pilot, is the seasoned action director wholaunched Luc Besson's extremely profitable Taxi in 1998.

His name, and the fact thatthe film opens in France on just under 500 screens ahead of the public holidayweekend, should see it fly to a profitable run; if it really takes off then itcould launch itself into another profitable action series, this time forproduction trio Eric & Nicolas Altmayer andLaurent Brochand. SkyFighters should also be a shoo-in for technical honours at the next Cesars.

But beyond usual territorieswhere commercial French films have an audience, Sky Fighters may have more trouble. Chances for US or British playseem slight.

Pires and co-writer Gilles Malencon(another former Besson collaborator), get the featureoff to a rousing start as a Mirage jet suddenly fails to show for an air showin England. Our heroes, Antoine Marchelli (Magimel) and Sebastien Valois (Cornillac), aredispatched to track down the missing aircraft over the North Sea. When themaverick jet seems hostile, Marchelli ignores ordersand shoots it down.

The pairs' self-defensiveresponses sparks a chain reaction of events that eventually lead to theexposure of a terrorist plot implicating not only Arab extremists but also afemale arms merchant and an Australian general.

Taken prisoners in theLibyan desert, Marchelli andValois escape and return to France in time to deter acommandeered Mirage from wreaking carnage during the Bastille Day military airparade over the Champs-Elysees.

Sky Fighters' chief failing is how it falls back on the usual dramatic cliches and stereotypes, despite devising new adventure forits flying heroes, with an over-reliance on stock dramaturgy that will likelyscupper any remake potential (Taxi enjoyedan English-language remake last year).

Similarly, while Benoit Magimel and Clovis Cornillac filltheir uniforms with the requisite authority, the script fails to really givethem much to do, although sex-on-the-brain Cornillacgets the funnier lines.

Geraldine Pailhas is convincing as Maelle Coste, the stiff official from the prime minister's officewho finally melts into Magimel's arms, and Philippe Torreton adds the right touch of ambiguity as the special missions boss who recruits the heroes for a dubiousassignment.

The film's real trump is itsrefusal to resort to CG technology to recreate the elaborate aerial scenes,which occupy more than a quarter of the screen time. Working with thelogistical support of the French Ministry of Defence and DassaultAviation, manufacturer of the Mirage 2000 jet, the film-makers deploy aningenious five-camera system, built into the external gas tank of the jet:digital work is limited to post-production questions of continuity and cockpitscenes.

But while the aerial footageis truly impressive, it nevertheless tends towards a certainmonotony in the long run. Despite their hi-tech specification, fighter jetsstill have less dramatic range than earthbound taxi cabs.

Production companies
Mandarin Films
Outsider Productions
M6 Films

French distribution
Pathe Distribution

International sales

Eric Altmayer
Nicolas Altmayer
Laurent Brochand

Gilles Malencon
Gerard Pires
based on the comic book Tanguy etLaverdure by Jean-Michel Charlierand Albert Uderzo

Pascal Lebegue
Eric Magnan
Eric Dumage

Production design
Jean-Pierre Fouillet

La Maison

Veronique Lange

Chris Corner

Main cast
Benoit Magimel
Clovis Cornillac
Geraldine Pailhas
Philippe Torreton
Alice Taglione
Rey Reyes