Capsule Review: On a Wing and a Prayer (2023)

The true story of Doug White, a passenger who miraculously made a successful emergency landing of a Super King turboprop plane after the pilot died mid-flight in 2009 is something worth telling on the big screen. Or in the case of Sean McNamara’s On a Wing and a Prayer, the movie made its streaming debut on Prime Video. The movie even features a promising cast that includes Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham.

But the first 30 minutes or so is a test of patience — a combination of awkwardly-misplaced comedy (!) and corny melodrama straight out of the assembly line from the Hallmark Channel. And yes, it feels borderline cringey too that it made me wonder whether I’m actually streaming the right movie. So, we first met Doug (Quaid) taking a flying lesson with his brother, Jeff (Brett Rice). Later, we see them having fun and even winning a barbeque contest with Doug’s wife, Terri (Graham) and their daughters, Bailey (Abigail Rhyne) and Maggie (Jessi Case). They sure look like a happy family until one night, Doug gets an unexpected call that his brother passed away. He and his family travel to Florida from their Louisiana home for the funeral as Doug is having a tough time dealing with the loss of his brother.

After the funeral, they take the flight back to Louisiana on a private plane, where Doug sits in the cockpit beside the pilot. Then comes another unexpected moment: the pilot dies just a few minutes after the takeoff. Doug, who only has a few hours of flight experience, is forced to take over the plane with the help of his wife and the air traffic controllers from Fort Myers.

The whole flying scene has its few decent moments of tension while Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham and Jesse Metcalfe, where the latter plays a pilot who has the experience of flying the same model of the plane guiding Doug every step of the way through a phone call, did their best in their respective roles, albeit only to a certain extent. But McNamara’s largely inept direction, coupled with Brian Egeston’s heavy-handed screenplay that touches on the crisis of faith and religion often resulted in a series of painfully histrionic moments. There are many times the movie tries and fails to inject emotional moments meant to make us feel invested in these characters’ ordeal.

The movie also suffers from questionable Louisiana accents, notably the way Quaid speaks some of his lines. If it wasn’t for the English subtitles, I might have had trouble trying to understand what he said in his dialogue. Then, there are subplots, particularly the one with Donna (Raina Grey), an aspiring pre-teen girl who wanted to become a pilot when she grows up. Her scene revolves around her explaining — and not to mention, spoon-feeding the viewers — to her friend in layman’s terms related to how and what could have happened to Doug’s plane is unnecessarily padded. Frankly, the movie could have used some tighter editing by simply removing her scenes altogether. And back to the flying scene, the special effects look shockingly dated as if this movie was made decades ago.

On a Wing and a Prayer is currently streaming on Prime Video.