Passenger 57 (1992)
August 16, 2022 12:18 AM - Subscribe

An airline security expert must take action when he finds himself trapped on a passenger jet when terrorists seize control of it.

John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) is a former policeman flying to Los Angeles to start his new job working for the anti-terrorism unit of a major airline. However, apprehended terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) is on the flight, too, being transported by the FBI. After Rane's accomplices kill the FBI agents and free him, Cutter realizes the entire flight is in danger. With the help of flight attendant Marti Slayton (Alex Datcher), Cutter tries to capture Rane and free the passengers.

David Nusair: It’s an irresistibly high-concept premise that’s employed to compulsively watchable effect by Hooks, as the filmmaker, working from a script by David Loughery and Dan Gordon, delivers a briskly paced (yet undeniably dated) thriller that’s been jam-packed with exciting, memorable action set-pieces – including several violent hand-to-hand fights aboard the aircraft and an entertainingly ludicrous sequence in which Snipes’ character boards a moving airplane via the landing gear. There’s little doubt, as well, that Passenger 57 benefits substantially from Snipes’ expectedly stirring turn as the down-to-earth protagonist, while Payne does an equally effective job of stepping into the shoes of his incredibly, appreciatively smug villain (and it’s clear, too, that the strong supporting cast provides able color around the margins of the proceedings). And although the picture does suffer from a few lulls here and there, Passenger 57 is, at less than 90 minutes, an engaging actioner that doesn’t overstay its welcome in the slightest and, as a bonus, features the best one-liner of Snipes’ career (“always bet on black!”)

Vanessa Letts: If, for obscure, perverse and demeaning reasons, you should ever find yourself sit- ting through this piece of work, there is one question which you might well wish to ponder. The chief no-motive terrorist criminal, 'sophisticated British aristocrat' Charles Rane, is played in a parvenu, downmarket-upmarket manner by Bruce Payne. Early in the film, while he's still high on the hog, but getting mildly annoyed by the doubting Thomases amongst the opposition, he suddenly drawls in his Essex manner, 'It is in the nature of man to con- fuse genius with insanity'. Fair enough, this proposition is pretty hard to refute cold; and if you aren't absolutely engrossed in who's shooting whom, you might find that it leads on to the question: 'Is it in the nature of man to confuse genius with atrocious acting?'

Adam Mars-Jones: Passenger 57, though, is business as usual. At another theoretically tense moment of the story, with the psychopathic nob in control of the flight deck and the hero sabotaging the infrastructure downstairs, they have a brief confrontation on the phone. Cutter has failed to provoke a brainstorm in Rane by referring in vague terms to his childhood and background (there's never a copy of Debrett handy when you want one) so he tries a different approach. Has Rane ever played roulette, he asks. Yes, Rane says, with perhaps just a hint of unease under all the superciliousness. 'Let me give you a word of advice,' Cutter continues - and at this point the director, Harry Hook, tries one of his few self-conscious shots, moving toward Snipes' face with borrowed Spike Lee dynamism just as he says, 'always bet on black.'

This is a moment of crass enough crowd-pleasing, but the strange thing is that it doesn't lead on to anything else. It could almost have been story- boarded for inclusion in the trailer rather than the movie itself, a cynical attempt to win a black audience, and anyone who was lured to the cinema by such a trailer would feel pretty thoroughly short-changed. The closest thing in Passenger 57 to an exploration of racial attitudes is the character of a good-old-boy Southern sheriff, a satirical target as broad as his trousers, a knucklehead who thinks the crisis is going well so long as there's coffee in his cup. Even he ends up a member of the John Cutter fan club.

posted by Carillon (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I rewatched this recently and man it didn't quite hold up like I'd hoped it would. I still loved a lot of it, Alex Datcher getting annoyed and seating the old women next to him is classic, Snipes is great, the villain, Bruce Payne, just kills it. But there's a whole bunch of getting on and off the plane that kills momentum, the carnival scene just drags even with the action. With some better decisions there was enough there to really sing.
posted by Carillon at 12:24 AM on August 16

I have a personal film festival languishing in the back of my mind of pre-9/11 terrorist movies, particularly late-90s ones but y'know, it's a storied topic and this sounds perfect for it. It's even pre-1993 WTC, so it's like primordial post-hijack era terrorist tropery. Plus I like a good actioner.

It kind of looks like a parody of Midnight Run, except with more fighting and the same amount of frowning.
posted by rhizome at 12:35 PM on August 16

Yeah there's a whole scene that would never ever happen now where they're training for what happens on a plane that gets hijacked and he yells at the flight attendant for trying to stop the hijacking. It's fascinating.
posted by Carillon at 1:32 PM on August 16

I think I only ever watched Passenger 57 one time, thirtysome years ago. Thinking back, I do not believe even my pre-teen self was particularly impressed. As I recall, my biggest problem was with Bruce Payne's character. I found the stone-cold, genius terrorist character to be more obnoxious and annoying than anything else. Plus, I don't remember Passenger 57 being on TV much at all over the years, certainly not as much as Executive Decision or Air Force One, neither of which is a favorite, but are movies I watched again and again because they were on all the time.
posted by Stuka at 10:36 PM on August 16

Is this it? Is this the moment in the Snipes Timeline where we decline from 'Always bet on Black' to "what do you mean, Pay my Taxes?"
posted by bartleby at 12:11 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]

Yeah there's a whole scene that would never ever happen now where they're training for what happens on a plane that gets hijacked and he yells at the flight attendant for trying to stop the hijacking.

It’s one of those things that has shifted in the popular consciousness: fifty years ago, planes were being hijacked in the US almost weekly with the expectation that they would be, with punchline-like regularity, diverted to Cuba (those of us of an advanced age will recall jokes about this). Indeed, in 1969 a Newark-Miami flight was diverted to Havana by hijackers and some passengers believed it was a setup because among the passengers was Candid Camera impresario Allen Funt.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:17 AM on August 17 [3 favorites]

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