Picks and Pans Review: Dark Blue World

updated 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ondrej Vetchy, Tara Fitzgerald

This movie—the story of two Czechoslovakian fighter pilots (Vetchy and Krystof Hadek) who flee their homeland during the 1939 Nazi invasion and head to England to join the Royal Air Force—is what Pearl Harbor should have been. Like its bloated blockbuster cousin, Dark has impressive dogfight scenes and its two flyboys both fall in love with the same English rose (Fitzgerald). But the movie gains complexity and poignancy by bookending the WWII story between scenes that show the regrettable fate of Vetchy's hero pilot. After returning to his native country at war's end, he is tossed into a labor camp—which really happened to many Czech RAF pilots—when the Communists come to power. His once-admirable independence, they fear, marks him as a reluctant comrade.

Director Jan Sverak (Kolya, an Oscar winner in '96) recycles many of the usual war-movie clichés but does so with intelligence, heart and restraint, making them seem fresh. (R)

Bottom Line: High flier

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