Review by Throwback
I’m always amazed at how quickly a movie star can fade from the public memory. For example, how many movie-goers in their early 20s would know who Wesley Snipes is? Probably not all that many, unless they just knew him as “that guy who said there was no law requiring him to pay taxes.” There was a time, though, when Snipes was one of the biggest names in action cinema. The movie that catapulted him into that layer of the stratosphere was Passenger 57 (1992, R), and it took a guy more widely known for his work in comedies, dramas, and bad Spike Lee movies and thrust him into the same category as Willis and Schwartzenegger.
Passenger 57 is the story of airline security expert John Cutter (Snipes) and his misfortune in traveling on the same flight as captured terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne). Naturally, Rane takes down the marshals who are transporting him and hijacks the plane, with Cutter as the only man who can stop him. At this point, you tend to hear a lot of critics talk about “action film clichés” and “formulaic plots” as though there’s something wrong with that. If a person goes to see an action movie, chances are that the plot isn’t the number one thing on their list. I’m guessing that the “action” part is. To that extent, as long as the action is well-done, the villains are interesting, the threat is believable, and the hero is heroic, everything should work out just fine. Passenger 57 understands this. Mostly.
Kevin Hooks was the director and really is not a guy with a whole lot of film experience. This mostly shows in his mismanagement of the above-mentioned basics. For example, the sequence where we find out that Cutter was married and his wife murdered comes off as artificially grafted into the main story. Worse than that is the semi-sub-plot of Cutter having to deal with moron cops in rural Louisiana in an encounter that carries more than a few hints of racial overtones. These sorts of things were jarring when they occurred in the movie itself. Happily, they aren’t enough to spoil the whole thing.
Let me go ahead and deal with the racial stuff. I’m from rural Louisiana. I know lots of cops. I wasn’t offended. I even laughed at the more comedic moments of these parts. The scenes weren’t bad because of the racial overtones; they were bad because they were awkward and didn’t fit with the film’s overall flow. However, I admit that I know folks who were offended by what they perceived as a racial element here. Goodness, I hope they never see Shaft. All that being said, I was more put out by the fact that nobody in this whole production bothered to learn that Louisiana doesn’t have counties. We have parishes. I’m not asking for authentic accents, but at least try to be minimally true to life.
Hooks at least seemed to know how to put together good action sequences and let the actors be themselves. I mentioned Bruce Payne earlier. If you’ve seen him in anything, then you’ve seen him in everything. This isn’t a bad thing. He’s fantastic at doing creepy and sinister. Snipes, while doing no-nonsense tough guy quite well, does much better playing off of Payne’s evilness than trying to compete and ham it up. Snipes had issues with this as his career progressed (think Blade: Trinity), so it’s good to see him in a role where he helps, rather than hinders enjoyment. I could go on about all the other characters, but there really aren’t any. You do get to see a younger Elizabeth Hurley, which is nice, but otherwise, the remaining cast (the love interest, the best friend, the henchmen) are really just cardboard filler.
This is a standard popcorn action movie. In other words, you aren’t going to find a whole lot of Catholicity to discuss.
With regards to content, there isn’t any sex/nudity. If you’ve seen any Wesley Snipes movies, you know there will be profanity. It’s actually on the tamer side here. There are multiple f-bombs and other standard vulgarities. I was surprised on the re-watch to find no blasphemies, so it’s go that going for it. Naturally, there’s plenty of violence, but just how else do you expect Cutter to get rid of a mob of terrorists?
Despite the inconsistent direction and less than original plot, Passenger 57 is definitely sufficient to satisfy the need for an action movie fix. It’s just under 90 minutes and most of that is exactly what you would want from this kind of film. There’s a hero. There are villains. They fight. Hero kicks butt.