“Fortress” is a direct to video air combat film set in the Mediterranean theater in WWII. It purports to be an actual story of a B-17 Flying Fortress crew on a few of their missions to bomb targets in Italy. The movie was the directorial debut of Mike Phillips. He had about $3 million to work with. His intention was to show the stress flight crews were under as they tried to achieve the minimum 25 mission threshold for ending their tours. We are informed that only about 20% of the airmen survived 25 missions.
The “Lucky Lass” is on a mission to bomb a city in Italy. CGI allows for a large formation of bombers. They have to drop out of formation which makes them Messerschmitt bait. Even though the crippled bomber is a sitting duck, the Me-109s are unable to shoot it down. They do manage to create openings for three new crew members before they inexplicably back off. In an homage to bomber combat movies, the bomber suffers landing gear problems and the crew valiantly decides to stick with the plane rather than bail out. They will have to hand crank the wheels down. As we prepare for that suspenseful emergency landing, they are suddenly back at base. I guess the screenwriter took the attitude that we’ve seen this scenario before so why insult us with actually showing it.
That mission was designed to launch our theme that the new replacement co-pilot must earn the respect of the veteran crew. Mike (Bug Hall) gets off to a rough start since he is a teetotaler among a group that revels in drowning their stress with rot gut they brew themselves. Capt. Willy (Donnie Jeffcoat) counsels Mike that in order to gain the respect of the men he needs to get drunk with them. Mike is doubtful about this advice. They did not teach that in flight school. Things get worse for Mike on his first mission as he gets them lost and they are pounced on by a gaggle of Me-109s who are as bad shots as the last group. Lucky Lass may not be lucky when it comes to staying in formation, but it sure is lucky when it comes to its opponents. This time they are rescued by some P-40s in a fairly decent dog fight. Willy is now considered not only a “stiff”, but a jinx. Redemption time! Make that a gremlin attracting jinx. The next mission features the unexplainable malfunctioning of three engines. Guess who falls out of formation again? Could things get worse? Only if the still blows up.
Mike earns the respect of the men when he helps the ground crew find the gremlin and rescues the boozehound O’Hara after he is arrested for stealing liquor. Redemption achieved. Now all that is left is the climactic mission which will feature buzzing the Colosseum and the rest of Rome. It will also feature a wheel falling off. Oh, and they fall out of formation.
“Fortress” starts off weak and gets a little better as it goes along. This applies specifically to the acting which manages to rise to average. Hall is the most solid as Willy. The rest are doing their best, but it ain’t much. There is one recognizable cast member – Chris Owens (“Sherminator”) from the “American Pie” series. Although the movie attempts to give us a taste of bomber crew life, it is just rudimentary. Apparently, they drank as much as fighter pilots and they had superstitions like peeing on a particular tent peg. However, there is little character development other than Willy and his development is stereotyped. The redemption route is admirably different, so there is that. As far as dialogue, its lame. What did you expect? There are a few f-words for authenticity, but these guys do not sound like real airmen. Speaking of real, the movie relies heavily on CGI, but I have no problem with that. How many real B-17s do you think you can get with a budget of $3 million? The CGI is video game quality. The bomber interior is well-rendered. Bizarrely, the music sounds like it is from a Civil War movie.
“Fortress” is supposedly based on a true story. Just like “Memphis Belle” (which it appears to be a mockbuster of), all of the events depicted could have happened - to ten different bombers on ten different missions. An early clue about the level of historical accuracy occurs when the last bomber in the formation is shot down and one of the Lucky Lass members says: “There goes our tail end, Charlie” to Charlie. No one on the set caught that there was not supposed to be a comma in that line of dialogue because the reference was to the nickname given to bombers that brought up the rear of the formation. Damn, I would enjoy movies like this more if I wasn’t so militarily literate!
I actually recommend “Fortress” as a watchable little trifle. It is less predictable than its older brother “Memphis Belle” and surprisingly downbeat. After all, war is downbeat. Why not take a break from binge-watching on Netflix to watch a movie about binge drinking?
GRADE = C