You have to marvel at the crass exploitation inherent in a movie that exists to show a bunch of firefighters in one life-threatening situation after another. It doesn't help that, in terms of tone and focus, Ladder 49 plays like a pilot for a Fox drama series (but with bigger-name stars). The hankie-punishing story strands a valiant life saver (Joaquin Phoenix) in a burning building, affording plenty of time for poignant flashbacks to his rookie years while his comrades (led by a typically unconvincing John Travolta) plot his rescue. The movie displays boundless imagination in illustrating the danger that guys like Phoenix's character face almost every day; the action sequences consistently raise those hard-to-impress hairs on the back of your neck. Still, three or so scenarios of mortal jeopardy would have filled the bill just fine. My overkill alarm started clanging uncontrollably at five.
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