There’s a great moral question at the center of Robert Zemckis’ new movie Flight: How should we view a heroic act performed by an alcoholic if drunkenness was purely incidental?

There are some other great elements in Flight: a riveting opening scene with a stricken plane gliding upside down as it prepares to crash land; Denzel Washington’s bloated look and riveting eyes as Captain Whip Whitaker; Don Cheadle’s as a hired-gun attorney trying to hide the truth; comic relief from John Goodman as a gregarious drug dealer; exceptional moments as Whitaker encounters other physically and emotionally damaged characters; and gratuitous nudity from the gorgeous Nadine Velazquez as a flight attendant with whom Whitaker has an affair.

But Flight never quite rises above the obstacles inherent in John Gatins’ well-meaning script.

The action sequence is so good that the rest of the movie struggles to live up to it.

Captain Whitaker’s various jumps on and off the wagon become predictable, almost routine. He seems like a decent man at heart, but we mostly see him acting like a jerk. Sympathy wears pretty thin when the character flaws are so obvious.

Kelly Reilly seems too flat and uninteresting to be convincing as Whitaker’s emerging love interest Nicole.

The film has two spots that seemed appropriate for endings, but it plods on to a third. We know there’s going to be some redemption (it’s Denzel Washington, after all) but we don’t need to see it happen over and over again.