An exciting WWII story receives stodgy, amateurish treatment in “Shady Lady,” a docu/drama hybrid about the eponymous U.S. Air Force B-24 bomber, which flew a record-breaking run from Darwin, Australia, to the Japanese-supplying oil fields of Borneo, then crash-landed on a remote salt bank in the Outback. Beginning as a black-and-white archival documentary, the pic soon transitions to a thuddingly written color reconstruction, with wooden actors cast as crew members, relying on exterior shots of the actual airplane to relieve the claustrophobic boredom. Opening in limited release Nov. 30, “Lady” strictly targets history buffs with a taste for grade-school pageants.
The actual mission involved multiple instances of high drama: violent storms driving the plane off course, radio malfunctions forcing it to make a second pass through heavy flak, an air attack by a host of Japanese Zeros, a dwindling fuel supply and a miraculous rescue by Aborigines. But aside from flashing lights and some anxious neck-craning, onscreen action is virtually non-existent. Instead, the navigator plays with his protractor, the young pilot staunchly carries on, the veteran co-pilot looks worried, the lanky gunner makes bad jokes, and the radioman turns dials.