If there's any historical figure who didn't need a glossy movie treatment it was America's beloved Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank), whose rather thin public image is of a rosy-cheeked, pioneering gal flying for fun. Unfortunately that's almost all we get in “Amelia,” a serviceable but skimpy biopic that seems content to run down the bullet points of Earhart's acclaimed and tragically short career in the skies — curiously ignoring the more interesting details of her life in the process.
Essentially split into two parts, the film opens with the famed female flyer's ill-fated 1937 attempt to circumnavigate the globe, jumping back and forth between that journey's highlights and the unfolding of her earlier career. Aside from a brief and dreamy flashback to her Kansas youth, the movie concentrates exclusively on the Earhart of the public eye, starting with her record-setting feat of becoming the first woman to cross the Atlantic by plane, with the help of publicist and future husband George Putnam (Richard Gere).
From there “Amelia” devotedly ticks off Earhart's accomplishments and setbacks while developing the love story between the main characters. Fairly mundane stuff, mostly. The only exception is that Putnam was a bit of a charlatan and cheat, a fact that the movie admits but has difficulty squaring against Amelia's apple-pie wholesomeness. Hence the scene in which Putnam bullies a rival into throwing a race gets the same golden glow of a tropical vacation advertisement while the stirring score constantly exhaling in the background hardly misses a breath.
Earhart herself lived in an era of breathless myth making, which the filmmakers — director Mira Nair (“The Namesake”) and screenwriter Ron Bass (“Dangerous Minds”) — appear to have been caught up in without a compelling vision of their own. It's telling, for example, that the movie doesn't ponder the root of Earhart's ambition, and only strays from the flight log long enough to dramatize a love affair between Earhart and Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), father of Gore (William Cuddy), a series of episodes that reveal almost nothing.
Even a cursory review of Earhart's life reveals a woman of great energy, humanity and adventurous spirit, elements missing from this muddled and frequently boring movie. (PG) 111 min. HHIII