Take a Hallmark movie, give it a Southern flair, sprinkle in some of the Christian element, mix in a “based on a true story” airplane disaster plot, and you have On a Wing and a Prayer, arriving April 7 on Amazon Prime. There are so many ways it could have taken a nosedive on the runway, if you will, but there are many reasons it works. The script has a few groaners I’ll get to in a minute, but overall it never goes overboard into pure silliness.
The infectiously catchy country songs on the soundtrack, the good-naturedness of all the characters, the uplifting story, and the earnest leading performances from two long-time beloved pros are all aspects that make this a success. I liked it better than Jesus Revolution, which will inevitably become a staple among churches, Christian schools, Christian tour buses, and the like. They’d be better off watching On a Wing and a Prayer instead.
Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham star as Doug and Terri White. Doug dabbles as a flying enthusiast as a casual hobby; the opening scene is him nervously doing a small guided practice flight that doesn’t go smoothly.
Next, we meet Graham as his wife, and his two daughters, as Quaid is participating in his local BBQ contest. Graham’s character, feeling frisky, implores her husband Quaid to “pull those ribs out so I can slather ‘em with my sauce.” “Come on, there are children present.” “Well, how d’ya think they got here?” – she retorts. In another scene, a woman at a bar tells a man “I like to get inside a man’s head, before I let myself in his bed.” I thought the second half of that line was going somewhere else, but they needed to keep it PG, after all.
Tragedy strikes the White extended family, which makes them go out of town. Joe, a pilot friend of theirs, offers to fly this family of four back home, in a private jet. While in the air, Joe suffers a heart attack and dies (unbelievably quietly, I might add), so it’s up to Quaid, who has little to no flying experience, to land the plane.
Assorted supporting characters are introduced, Love Actually style, and they come into play in various ways, mainly as part of a few control towers to communicate with Quaid. I can’t escape seeing Atlanta actors in the movies, and it was a pleasure to see my friend Joe Knezevich here, as the commander of one of the towers.
The stakes are kept high and played well, except for one notable situation that didn’t seem as impenetrable as they were making it look. (It’s a luggage compartment you’re breaking into – not exactly Fort Knox.) Seeing a veteran movie star can feel like reconnecting with an old friend, and it’s lovely to see Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham again, now at ages 68 and 53, respectively. On a Wing and a Prayer comes to us just in time for Easter, when the real-life story this is based on happened 14 years ago, on Easter Sunday 2009.
I enjoyed the covers of “Hallelujah” and “I’ll Fly Away” near the end, as predictable as their appearances may be. The epilogue with the obligatory captions that tell us what happened to everyone afterwards (along with footage/pictures of the “real” people) was a bit too belabored for my taste. I’d have preferred the flight to have been shorter if we were going to sit on the runway for a while after arrival.