It would be easy to dismiss On a Wing and a Prayer as your stereotypical faith-based film that feels like it forces faith and God into every moment that feels more preachy and judgmental than entertainment. And at first it comes close to being that way, but then the film delivers a compelling true story of one of the most unlikely emergency landings in aviation. It’s a gripping portrayal of survival and determination thanks to some tight and intense storytelling. On a Wing and a Prayer struggles in its opening act, but thankfully manages to stick its landing.
What was supposed to be a simple return flight for Doug White (Dennis Quaid) and his family one Easter Sunday soon turned into their worst nightmare. Not long after their King Air 200 private plane took off the pilot suffers a fatal heart attack and Doug is forced to take control and attempt to land the plane. He is a recreational pilot-in-training, but he is still way over his as he has never flown this type of plane before, let alone anything else near this size or complexity. This being a life or death situation for him, his wife Terri (Heather Graham), and two daughters, Doug must put his fears aside and follow instructions from air traffic control if he’s going to gain control of the plane and land it safely.
For a film that’s focus is on an emergency landing, there sure are a lot of minor characters and subplots going on. The opening act of On a Wing and a Prayer sets the scene, and it’s a lot to get through. Not only do you have Doug and his family to establish, but practically every side character has some trauma they have to overcome. There’s Dan (Rocky Myers), a new air traffic controller who spends his evenings at the bar drowning his sorrows with booze. Former flight instructor Cory is emotionally distant with everyone, including his girlfriend, after losing family in a plane crash. Throw in a little girl named Donna (Raina Grey) who dreams of becoming a pilot so much she spends her time watch the radar and listening in on the radio, and you have a pretty stuffed movie. Nearly everyone with the exception of Donna is someone who is broken one way or the other, and what better way to fix everyone in one fell swoop than a plane emergency.
Thankfully once they are in the air that is when the film starts to get interesting. Flying and landing a plane is no easy task, and the film does a great job at showing just how daunting a situation Doug and his family are in. The controls are complex and even with everyone in the air traffic controller tower doing their best to guide him, there are little details are difficult to get through on radio only. One simple miscalculation at any point could spell disaster. And with so many people involved as well, there is a lot of potential for things to go wrong. Tension remains high from wheel up on take off until the plane comes down one way or the other.
It’s a bit strange then when the film decides to keep on trying to increase the tension. At one point one of Doug’s daughters has an allergic reaction to a candy bar she eats because it had nuts in it and no one noticed so there’s this whole scene where his other daughter struggles to retrieve the EpiPen from the luggage area while Doug is trying to fly the plane while Terri is acting as co-pilot. Honestly, the way it all plays out on screen is pretty hilarious, as if having the pilot die on you mid-flight isn’t enough drama. I know the film is based on a true story, but I’m not sure how many liberties the studio took for this one. Sometimes it just feels like it’s trying to do too much.
On a Wing and a Prayer gets off to a rocky start but once it finds its wings it becomes a pretty smooth flight. Yes, it can be a little preachy at times, but the tension of the flight itself is well done. While it won’t win any awards or such, everything else about the film is fine and perfectly suited for streaming. As far as faith-based films go, On a Wing and a Prayer flies above the majority of them.
On a Wing and a Prayer is now streaming on Prime Video. Check out our interview with actor Jesse Metcalfe about his preparation for his role in the film.
On a Wing and a Prayer struggles in its opening act, but thankfully manages to stick its landing. It’s a gripping portrayal of survival and determination thanks to some tight and intense storytelling.