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MOVIE REVIEWS : Is This Trip Necessary?

November 06, 1992|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

As good an actor as Wesley Snipes is--and it is hard to think of many better--he still isn't good enough to save "Passenger 57." How could he be? Though it is refreshing to see an actor of color playing a straight-up action hero, and though Snipes' performance gives this film considerably more kick than it would have had otherwise, it remains a standard issue thriller, dutifully going where its betters have gone before.

Like its more polished "Die Hard" predecessors, "Passenger 57" (citywide) deals with terror in the skies and how one tough hombre takes on the kind of maniacal wretch who considers killing 60 people to create a distraction all in a day's work.

Unlike "Die Hard," however, the creative team of "Passenger 57," from director Kevin Hooks to screenwriters David Loughery and Dan Gordon to producer Lee Rich, all have backgrounds that are heavy on the TV side, and it shows. From its abbreviated 84-minute length to its indifferent and confusing plotting to its tepid acting, "Passenger 57" plays like a cookie-cutter "Movie of the Week," dead set against anything that so much as hints at originality.

The major exception to this, obviously, is Wesley Snipes, who, as everything from "New Jack City" to "Waterdance" has shown, is incapable of an indifferent performance. Whenever Snipes is on the screen, energetically snapping necks as well as wisecracks like "Always bet on black," "Passenger 57" is more diverting than it has any right to be, but even he is no match for the film's determined ordinariness.

Snipes plays John Cutter, perhaps the world's top anti-terrorism operative, a man who knows both what to do during an airplane hijacking and just how to do it. But rather than being out there fighting the good fight, Cutter, nursing a personal trauma, has "taken himself out of the game." Instead he passes the time teaching feisty stewardesses like Marti Slayton (Alex Datcher) how to handle terrorists and biting her head off when she muffs the job.

While Cutter is losing his temper, airline hijacker Charles Rane (British actor Bruce Payne) is getting captured by a heavily armed SWAT team. If villainy were an Olympic sport, this cool psychopath, archly nicknamed "the Rane of Terror" and apparently the victim of a rather nasty childhood he can't bear to have anyone mention, would be a shoo-in for the gold. When he says, "Sit down, shut up or be killed," he is not just making conversation.

After burning some incense and doing the kind of meditation all deadly karate experts have a weakness for, Cutter decides to get back into the swing of things by taking a job as head of security for the mythical Atlantic International airlines. And, in the kind of coincidence that would cause coronaries in Las Vegas, he ends up sharing a plane with not only that attractive stewardess, but also a heavily guarded Charles Rane as well. As a crew member innocently puts it, "I have a feeling this is going to be a very interesting flight."

The problem with "Passenger 57" (rated R for terrorist violence and language) is that in fact the flight does not turn out to be all that interesting. Neither in the air nor in a pointless stopover on the ground does anything happen that arouses more than an entry-level of excitement. Add to this a certain sloppiness (just for openers, no one even bothers to tell us who passenger 57 is) and you end up with a film that does not exactly crackle with excitement. So when a character says, "You'd think they'd put an airline hijacker on a bus or a train," it's hard not to agree that maybe that would have been a better idea all the way around.

'Passenger 57'

Wesley Snipes: John Cutter

Bruce Payne: Charles Rane

Tom Sizemore: Sly Delvecchio

Alex Datcher: Marti Slayton

Bruce Greenwood: Stuart Ramsey

Robert Hooks: Dwight Henderson

A Lee Rich production, released by Warner Bros. Director Kevin Hooks. Producers Lee Rich, Dan Paulson and Dylan Sellers. Executive producer Jonathan Sheinberg. Screenplay David Loughery and Dan Gordon. Story Stewart Raffill and Dan Gordon. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Editor Richard Nord. Costumes Brad Loman. Music Stanley Clark. Production design Jaymes Hinkle. Art director Alan Muraoka. Set decorator Don K. Ivey. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (terrorist violence and language).

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