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Pushing Tin

Nick Falzone (John Cusack), a/k/a the Zone, is a zany air-traffic-controller scalawag who mans his console dressed in a what-do-I-care-I'm-that-good Rangers jersey and who gets a reckless surge every time he fills his airspace with enough planes to give an ordinary ATC an aneurysm. He's the cock of the walk, the number one hun—until laconic Zen daredevil Russell (Billy Bob Thornton) comes to town on a Harley, a mystery man with nerves of steel. These two rugged individualists face off over a pair of radar screens (the suspense! the Pong-like blips! the technical gibberish!), determined to see who has the biggest cubes by juggling more planes than the next guy and, by the way, putting as many anonymous airline passengers in mortal jeopardy as possible.

Think the swinging-dick mentality of Top Gun, but in an ergonomic desk chair. Written by the cocreators of Cheers, Pushing Tinpivots on our dubious fascination with professional erection duels, which are a sad substitute for dramatic conflict. Director Mike Newell could've been Michael Caton-Jones or Michael Apted for all the distinction he brought to this studio sheepwash; Cusack, Thornton, and Angelina Jolie as Thornton's grumpy young bride coast like skiers. If Pushing Tinwill be remembered for anything, it'll be for Cate Blanchett as Cusack's sweet but savvy Nassau County wife, Connie. Forget that Blanchett nails a working-class L.I. accent better than any imported actress ever has—she shows up the natives, too, including several Long Island–bred costars. She's also the only 3-D human being in sight. Hell, anybody could lord it up as a monarch; here'sthe true measure of an actress, defending her career against mediocre scripting and direction and coming out on top.

Long live Cate.
 
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