While trapped in a bad fire, Baltimore fireman Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) reflects over his career -- from gullible rookie to seasoned firefighter to steady family man. Jay W. Russell's film hits just about all the firehouse clichés -- booze-ups at Irish bars, the weddings and funerals, the child saved from flames, the injured partner -- but in a mostly satisfying fashion. The film never overblows the hero angle; these guys just do a dangerous job. (Ladder 49 is surely a nod to America's newest heroes, the firemen of 9/11, but it wisely focuses on a gang of run-of-the-mill city firemen.) Both Phoenix and John Travolta, as his captain and mentor, opt for low-key, likeable performances that help smooth over some of the narrative's obviousness. Russell does stage the fire sequences like 3-D film was still an option: Flaming beams seem to crash right off the screen.