LADDER 49 is one of those "they don't make them like that anymore" movies, an unabashed love letter to firefighters that might as well have been made sixty years ago. It is irony-free, which is fine -- certainly, we could all use a vacation from irony and its lite version, snarkiness. But it makes the mistake of allowing its resolute decency to idealize the characters. That can make a heartwarming Saturday Evening Post cover, but makes the movie seem one-dimensional, if touching. The relentlessly wholesome characters all blend together, all as adorable as Ewoks. The only dramatic tension comes from the fires, which begin to blend together, too.
With one exception, every one of the characters is kind, honorable, dedicated, thoughtful, and devoted. Actually, the exception is all those things except maybe kind; he's a little bitter and cynical. But the only bad guy in the movie is the fire. The characters are all so decent that they are practically interchangeable, and that keeps them at more of a distance from us than the movie intends. It's fine to be sincere, but the film is unnecessarily obvious, with "That's Just Love Sneaking Up on You" as a couple falls in love and that lilting Irish flute music to strum our heartstrings. But the fire-fighting sequences are excitingly staged and I'll freely admit to a couple of tears and the sense that I am privileged to share the planet with people of such honor, courage, and dedication.