The potboiler “Life on the Line” salutes the folks who risk serious injury every day to keep our power flowing. This is the kind of salt-of-the-earth story that American filmmakers don’t bother with much anymore — although frankly, there’s not much here to convince anyone they should.
John Travolta stars as Beau, a Texas utility company foreman who frets that his greedy bosses are pushing too hard to upgrade a complicated grid as storm season looms. The story builds to a raging tempest, which hits as Beau’s crew is out in the field.
Travolta is as charismatic as he’s been in a while, playing someone less outsized than he has lately. (Even his exaggerated accent and glued-on facial hair don’t hamper his performance.) He’s ably supported by familiar faces such as Kate Bosworth as Beau’s niece, Julie Benz as a woman dealing with her husband’s Iraq war PTSD, and Sharon Stone as one lineman’s drunken mama.
But director David Hackl and a suspiciously large number of screenwriters don’t seem to trust the inherent fascination of watching burly dudes hang cable in the wind and lightning. The movie relies on a needlessly intricate flashback structure and a lot of long, flat dialogue scenes to flesh out every character.
Sixty years ago, a film like this would star Humphrey Bogart or Robert Ryan, and would let the rigor of the work drive the plot. “Life on the Line” traffics in piled-on, predictable melodrama, with only intermittent sparks.
‘Life on the Line’
Rating: R, for some violence/grisly images and brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal, Santa Monica