A blazingly earnest, post-9/11 paean to America's firefighters, Ladder 49 opens with Baltimore search-and-rescuer Joaquin Phoenix trapped in a collapsing warehouse. While his crew struggle to save him, Phoenix flashes back to his journey from greenhorn to hero - - marriage, fatherhood and colleague-loss figuring along the way.
Initially disorientating, the back-and-forth structure is the most ambitious thing about Jay Russell's film. The script's stifling reverence for its subject leaves plot and characterisation undercooked while the direction rarely captures the heat and danger of the job. Only one scene, a daring window-ledge rescue, manages to raise the temperature.
With support posts manned by John Travolta, Robert Patrick and Jacinda Barrett, the cast's serviceable enough. But given the overall lack of impact, you can't help wishing the producers had sent the money to a relevant charity.