Should I Watch..? 'Passenger 57'
What's the big deal?
Passenger 57 is an action thriller film released in 1992, one which helped launch the career of its star Wesley Snipes. The film concerns the efforts of a deadly hijacker to escape his FBI captors while an airline security expert on the same flight tries to stop him. The film also stars Bruce Payne, Tom Sizemore, Alex Datcher and a young Elizabeth Hurley in her first mainstream movie appearance. Despite a mixed reception from critics when it was first released, the film was a hit with audiences with box office earnings of more than $44 million in the US alone. It has since become something of a cult film and is responsible for one of Snipes' trademark lines: "Always bet on black!"
What's it about?
Former cop turned airline security consultant John Cutter currently works training plane staff how to handle a potential hijacking when he is persuaded by his friend and colleague Sly Delvecchio to accept a new job as vice-president of a specialist counter-terrorism unit based at Atlantic International Airlines. Meanwhile, professional hijacker Charles Rane is apprehended by the FBI and escorted onto a plane to Los Angeles where he will stand trial - the same flight also has Cutter flying to LA to finalise his future career.
Perhaps inevitably, Rane has installed several cohorts onto the flight and quickly hijacks the plane after killing the captain and his men assuming control of the passengers. Cutter somehow evades capture and notifies Delvecchio of the situation via an in-flight phone-call. Together with stewardess Marti Slayton, it falls to Cutter to prevent Rane from escaping custody and killing everyone on board.
FBI Agent Dwight Henderson
Sheriff Leonard Biggs
David Loughery & Dan Gordon*
Release Date (UK)
21st May, 1993
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Long before Snipes ever wore fangs in his seminal appearances as Blade, he was peddling his wares in B-grade action flicks like Passenger 57 which gives him plenty to opportunity to showcase his skills. And sure enough, the film sometimes feels like a show-reel for its star - he shoots, he does martial-arts, he rides motorbikes, he jumps from things! Everything an action star should do is done here by Snipes with aplomb, as if he rarely needs to step up to third gear. In addition, Cutter might be a fairly one-dimensional role but Snipes gives the part plenty of gusto, feeling like a mix of Shaft and John McClane from Die Hard.
Opposite, Payne gives another disturbing performance as Rane - your typical English baddie who always seems one step ahead. Payne, who seems to have made a career out of these sort of roles, has great fun as the demented hijacker who can't believe his luck when the Feds stick him on a plane and never quite loses his cool when Cutter begins meddling with his plans. The film tries to keep as much of the action on the plane as possible and for a while, this feels very much like Die Hard on a plane. Unfortunately, the wings quickly fall off mid-flight.
- The film was originally written for Sylvester Stallone to star but he turned the role down. As a nod to this, Sizemore's character had his name changed to Sly in the script.
- The actor playing FBI Agent Dwight Henderson, Robert Hooks, is actually the father of the film's director Kevin Hooks.
- Although part of the film is set in Louisiana, it was actually filmed in Snipes' hometown of Orlando in Florida. Snipes even offered bit parts to students at his old high school if they earned higher enough grades.
What's not to like?
The moment the plane lands to refuel after Cutter begins messing about with the plane, Passenger 57 becomes equally stranded and quickly descends into action movie farce. As Rane and his men somehow sneak off a passenger plane despite hundreds of Feds staring at it through binoculars, doubts became creeping in about where the film was going. Indeed, as our hero gives chase through some odd redneck funfair, I started to notice my interest similarly running out. It sticks a little too closely to the Die Hard formula but weirdly, the film realises this and things pick up again once the flight resumes.
Aside from Snipes and Payne, the rest of the cast don't really provide much support. Datcher is far too knowing as the flight attendant with attitude while Hurley's appearance is off-set by how different she looks now compared to then, yet another victim of too many facelifts. The film lacks a little of the tension and humour that elevated its inspiration to new heights and redefined what an action movie could be. For all his fighting prowess, Snipes isn't the sort of hero I could get behind or take seriously. He would improve in films like Demolition Man, US Marshals and Blade, of course. But everyone has to start somewhere, I guess.
Should I watch it?
Passenger 57 is an adequate time-passer, feeling exactly like a Die Hard clone should but sorely lacking in excitement or quality. Snipes and Payne give good accounts of themselves but the film has aged about as well as Concorde, feeling like countless other imitators and bringing nothing new to the table. Best if you probably skipped this flight.
Great For: Snipes' profile, African-American audiences, short-haul flights
Not So Great For: nervous airline passengers, English stereotypes, dim-witted FBI agents
What else should I watch?
Assuming that you got all your information from the movies instead of things like the news or real life then you'd probably never set foot inside a plane again. From disaster movies like Airport to hokey thrillers like Turbulence and iconic comedy spoofs like Airplane!, Hollywood has long had an obsession with all sorts of incidents happening whilst up in the air. An obsession that continues today with Liam Neeson taking his quiet-hard-man routine into the skies in Non-Stop and Jodie Foster losing her daughter somewhere in Flightplan.
Snipes' career as an action man never really fulfilled its potential, falling short of the standards of Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. If anything, he worked better as a serious actor with a good sense of comic timing in films like White Men Can't Jump. Until Blade provided him with a signature role, he would flounder in the sort of B-movie fluff that would inevitably lead him to an appearance in The Expendables 3 although I'm certain he would have appeared earlier if he wasn't in jail for tax evasion.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox