Wesley Snipes is John Cutter, an ex-policeman who just landed a new job as an anti-terrorist expert for an airline. He boards a plane for his new gig and his flight also happens to be carrying a heavy duty terrorist being transported to prison. This baddie plans an escape and hijacks the plane with his nasty co-horts. What an ironic situation that Cutter is right there in the fray of things and is the best man to be in the sticky predicament.
Four years after Die Hard, its action influence was rippling across cinema screens. Passenger 57 was just one of dozens of flicks that ripped its story and beats from the Die Hard playbook.
It’s funny about all those ‘Die-Hard-in-a’ movies. They all vary in quality, some good, some bad, but it’s almost impossible to watch them or talk about them without thinking back to where they’re true inspiration sprung from.
There’s quite a contrast between action movies before Die Hard and those that came after it. Even now we’re on the cusp of getting….wait for it….’Die Hard‘ in a soccer stadium with Final Score starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan. The ‘Die Hard‘ shift in action movies are still being felt. I sometimes wonder when another action movie will come along that will alter action cinema in such a long lasting way.
Anyway, Passenger 57 is ‘Die Hard in a Plane’. Rewatching it I was first struck by just how short it is. It doesn’t even clock in at 90 minutes!
This movie rushes through all its paces leaving aside any buildup and not bothering with any kind of its own action logic or worrying much about its story. It plows ahead to give you exactly what you’re watching it for – Die Hard-type of action done by Snipes. It plays like a dumb cliffs note version of a superior action flick.
It’s like an action movie equivalent of jettisoning a carefully prepared, well cooked, enjoyable meal by going through a fast food drive thru.
The next thing was just how trite, silly, illogical and not particularly inventive the movie is with its story. Ok, in the first ten minutes we know how this is all going to play out. Actually, you know what’s going to happen just by the movie synopsis. The fun is going to be watching the execution of that.
Passenger 57 offers nothing unique or noteworthy with its scenario. In fact, it doesn’t seem like it can come up with enough ideas to sustain itself for even half of its brief runtime! In the end it winds up as a very big bust.
At the time it was a decent sized hit and helped Snipes launch his action career, but today it plays more like a cheap direct-to-dvd movie. Snipes and bad guy Bruce Payne are meant to engage in a battle of wits and bullets and it has pretty mediocre results.
It says something that with all the action bits in this movie, the most memorable thing folks have taken away from it is Snipes’ line, “Always bet on black.”
Payne ends up as one of the more entertaining elements in this. His villain is cut from the Hans Gruber cloth, much like most bad guys in movies were drawn from around this time. They were all these sophisticated, confident, smart, foreign baddies. He has some fun lines and provides a devilish center to the mayhem.
Most everything else in the movie is completely forgettable. The story never takes off and the action is uninspired. For those thinking most of the action is going to consist of creative claustrophobic action inside the plane, they’ll be in for quite the awakening. Things step away from the plane bits to do more traditional type of action – a motorcycle chase, a crazy detour to a carnival – before Snipes gets back onboard the plane to give us a very expected ending.
If you’re hoping to see Snipes engage in some martial arts fight scenes, that ends up disappointing too. They whiz past and don’t help with the excitement. As for a suspenseful cat and mouse game between good guy and bad guy…..that was some other movie.
Snipes’ leading lady is uninteresting. The gang of terrorists look like a cheap package deal the film got from The Movie Bad Guy Store. Elizabeth Hurley has a small role as the gal terrorist, and other than her looking nice there’s no more to say about her.
There are supporting characters, but they’re more like supporting ‘function-ers ‘ who come in, do whatever is needed to keep the story going (no matter how ludicrous it might be) and leave when no longer needed.
As for Snipes, I suppose he’s fine in this. He fills the role of action lead and everyone liked his ‘bet on black line’. I’m sure he had some other one-liners in this, but I can’t remember any at all. The movie tries to give him a backstory with his wife who was killed, but it doesn’t provide the dramatic weight to his character that it’s meant to.
One amusing thing that really dates the movie is the running joke of how a little old lady thinks Snipes is Arsenio Hall. I doubt that gag has aged too well. Probably most younger movie-watchers will have no idea why this old lady is yelling “Whoop, Whoop, Whoop” at him, so that will go over their heads. Not that I thought it was very funny back in 1992 anyway.
For big Snipes fans who want something really, incredibly simple Passenger 57 might satisfy, but I think the movie did more for Snipes’ career at the time than leaving action fans a worthy movie to go back and enjoy over and over again. This ends up being disposable tripe.
There are many more Die Hard-inspired action flicks that have done this much, much better. Air Force One was a more entertaining Die-Hard-in-a Plane action movie than this.
The trailer makes it look like it will be more cheesy fun than it actually is