Film

Wait, Why Does the John Travolta Working-Man Melodrama ‘Life on the Line’ Have a Random Rape Plot?

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This ropey on-the-job melodrama might inspire some hope in its early scenes of Texas linemen working together and crabbing each other. The cast makes the electrical-crew lingo sound natural, director David Hackl has a light touch for camaraderie and everyday heroism, and John Travolta is amusing, perhaps intentionally, as a moody bossman with grandiose notions about his work and a lilting, unplaceable accent.

The film kicks off with a promising fake-interview segment in which a lineman humbly lionizes his co-workers, then an on-the-pole lightning tragedy that suggests the kind of intimate proletarian slice-of-life that I wish Peter Berg would get back to.

But hoo, boy, the story that follows — come to find out it’s not easy coming up with dramatic scenes about restoring power lines. To pad things out, and to set up a high-stakes ending in which the linemen get to (in their words) “save our girl” just by doing what is their job already, Life on the Line resorts to scenes of a mean sumbitch stalking and then trying to rape the women our linemen love. (In these thankless roles: Kate Bosworth and Julie Benz.) Then, of course, comes noble self-sacrifice during an epic storm with Travolta’s boss working out his differences with a young buck (Devon Sawa) when they probably should be fixing the wires.

The country songs that play over the credits offer more arresting detail about life on the line than the film manages in 100 minutes. How about a movie about working America where folks are actually working rather than acting out movie fantasy? Still, here’s bonus points for the scene where Travolta’s Harley-loving everyman needs help from his niece pronouncing the word “registration.”

Life on the Line

Directed by David Hackl

Lions Gate

Opens November 18, Cinema Village

Available on demand