‘Passenger 57’ – Wesley Snipes is Great, The Movie is Not

There was a time long ago, before he decided against paying taxes, when Wesley Snipes was one of the biggest action stars working in movies. When you see an actor like that suddenly sink into the almost inescapable realm of direct-to-video films, you cannot help but feel a little sad. Seriously, Snipes is a better actor than many give him credit for these days. He wowed us in “New Jack City” and the “Blade” movies among others. But in between all that, he starred in crappy movies he usually proved to be the most watchable thing in. “Passenger 57” is one of those crappy movies but, for what it is worth, it is never boring for a second.

Snipes stars as John Cutter, a security specialist for an airline corporation who is taking a flight to Los Angeles to take a new job. He is the kind of character you might see in Sylvester Stallone movies like “Cliffhanger;” a man who has suffered a terrible tragedy and is now heading on to the road to redemption. Cutter watched his wife get shot to death in front of him during a convenience store robbery, so you can understand why he doesn’t smile a lot. Along with him on the plane is flight attendant, don’t dare call her a stewardess, Marti Slayton, played by Alex Datcher. Cutter just got through a training session with her where he chewed Slayton out for improvising a move where she succeeded in disarming a terrorist. Now he is trying to make it up to her, but she is not making it easy for him. Ironically, the thing Cutter chewed Slayton out about becomes their only option for survival.

Unbeknownst to Cutter, aboard the plane is terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) who is being shipped under the guard of FBI agents to await trial where he will most certainly be found guilty. Payne plays the villain of the piece with a seething glare you can find in any Stanley Kubrick film. It is a one-note performance, even if his character has the excuse of feeling no pain. At the same time, Payne does create a threatening presence as a villain to where he has us desperately wanting him to experience the most intense pain humanly possible. Seriously, karma has got to visit this asshole at some point.

Now this brings me to one of the key idiotic moves in this film. Charles Rane is responsible for all of these terrorist acts of destruction, many of them involving airplane explosions. So of course, the FBI has the bright idea of transporting him to trial via airplane. Not by car, train, or even in a cage or some contraption that they would use for Hannibal Lecter. Of course, if they didn’t take him on a plane, there would be no movie. I doubt it would have been anywhere as exciting to see Mr. Rane hijack a 1970’s Pinto. Then again, that might have made for some interesting fight scenes between him and Cutter.

Some movies have gaping holes in plot logic which don’t bother me because I don’t always realize they are happening while I am watching a movie. But when you have plot holes as big as the ones those dinosaurs could have walked through, it’s kind of hard to not notice them. “Passenger 57” is full of plot holes, and they left me scratching my head constantly. We have already gone over transporting an airline hijacker by airplane, but how does this terrorist manage to get on board after being taken off by the police? He has some guy shooting the officers taking him back on board, but how did he get all the way out there? Did the FBI even bother checking the backgrounds of the flight crew and passengers? Really, you can see it in the eyes of Rane’s henchmen. Then again, looks can be deceiving. And is it really possible for Cutter to get inside an airplane by sneaking up through the landing gear while the plane is taking off and not get crushed or blown away in the process?

To a certain extent, it almost shouldn’t matter as “Passenger 57” is entertaining enough. But if these logic loopholes give you a big enough headache, like being in the front row and staring right up at a movie like “JFK,” then it does. You can only be allowed to insult the intelligence of the audience so much before they get right back up in your face.

The other really big problem is that the majority of the acting here is God awful. Granted, Snipes is always fun to watch, and I even have good things to say about Elizabeth Hurley as well. The other actors, however, all speak as if their feet are nailed to the floor, and they emote more than anything else. This is especially evident on the ground when Snipes is confronted by a bunch of hillbilly cops that are clichéd and racist in inescapable ways. How rare it is that you see this much bad acting in a motion picture which was released theatrically.

Then again, you do have Tom Sizemore on board as Cutter’s friend of sorts, Sly Delvecchio. Even if he was on drugs while acting in this movie, he is never ever boring and raises the acting level ever so slightly for the rest of the cast. Then again, that helped only so much.

The movie was directed by Kevin Hooks who has done a lot more work these days in television than he has in feature films. But considering that he has worked on such shows as “24,” “Alias,” and “Homicide – Life on The Street” among others, it is clear he has a good hand for action and character than this particular motion picture would quickly suggest. Maybe the movie was so low budget that they didn’t have time to work on things more. If they did have more time, it would have ended up being far more entertaining and enthralling than what ended up onscreen here.

As I write this, Snipes has since gone through a career renaissance thanks to the combined efforts of Craig Brewer and Eddie Murphy who allowed him to let loose and go crazy in “Coming 2 America” and “Dolemite is My Name.” Seeing him in “Passenger 57” serves as a reminder of the kind of action movie star he was once upon a time, and he does make this one more watchable than it might be otherwise. Thanks to Snipes, he keeps me from giving this particular movie a more brutal review.

In the end, I can’t say I hated “Passenger 57,” but I never got bored by it either. This was made back when we had dozens of “Die Hard” knock-offs, and this one can safely be described as “Die Hard on A Plane.” If you want a better version of this movie, check out “Executive Decision” with Kurt Russell and Steven Segal which has better acting and characters. Better yet, check out “Air Force One” which stars Harrison Ford and was directed by Wolfgang Peterson.

After all this time, I can’t believe Roger Ebert liked this movie more than “Air Force One.”

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