For this ride on the “Action Movie Time Machine”, I have decided to continue with the “Expendables 3” theme of “Battle of the Tough Guys“. This time we will look at the work of Wesley Snipes, who is one of the newest additions to the Expendables team. A man who is no stranger to the action genre and who, according to what I’m sure is a more than reputable internet news source, was granted an early release from prison to take up arms against other tax evaders.
The year is 1992. President George H. W. Bush is televised becoming ill and vomiting in the lap of Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. Later Bush would step aside, allowing the newly elected, jazz saxophone playing Bill Clinton into the Oval Office. Also, the Cold War is declared officially over. Without the ever present threat of complete thermo-nuclear annihilation, Thrash-Metal musicians became disillusioned and began cutting their hair.
All this and Wesley Snipes took it personally when a few terrorists tried to hijack his plane, in “Passenger 57“.
Charles Rane, Bruce Payne, has just been captured by the FBI for countless crimes against his fellow man. Terrorism and murder mostly. The feds struck just as Rane was about to have his face altered by a plastic surgeon. He has been on the run for some time now and the reason he has always been able to allude capture is that he periodically changes his appearance surgically.
Now in custody, Rane is being transported via the friendly skies to Los Angeles, where he will await a trial and his inevitable execution.
Meanwhile, the career of former detective John Cutter, Wesley Snipes, has taken some interesting turns during the past several years. Cutter now trains security techniques to airline personnel, what to do in the case of a hijacking. Cutter took this job after one unfortunate evening when he and his wife walked into a convenience store which was being robbed. Cutter tried to stop the perp, but it resulted in Cutters wife being shot and killed.
Cutter has tried to put all that behind him but his reputation as a hardworking detective who has been giving airlines safety tips, has garnered him the attention of the federal anti-terrorism taskforce. They want him to head their department. Cutters bags are packed and he is on his way to Los Angeles.
Is this important? Not really. It’s just a way to unknowingly get Rane, a murderous mastermind, and Cutter, all around bad-ass, on the same plane together.
Rane is one of those guys who sees himself as a bit of a genius and likes to think three steps ahead of everyone else. Because of this he has devised a daring escape plan involving several passengers and several flight staff, who work for him of course.
The plans genius is in it’s simplicity. They’ll hijack the plane, rig the plane to explode, jump from the plane before it explodes and when it does, no one will be able to tell who’s charred corpse is who’s. Rane would be as free as a bird to continue blowing up make-a-wish kids, or do whatever a sicko like Rane does.
But there is a flaw in his plan. He never figured John Cutter would be on the plane. Cutter, knowing the inner workings of the plane, disconnects some wires in the hull of the airship, causing it to purge it’s fuel supply. The plane is force to land and Rane sees this is an opportunity to escape. This is a mute point because Cutter, accompanied by several “good ol’ boy” rural police, track Rane down in a near by carnival and return him to custody.
But there is a twist. Rane’s men are still holding several passengers hostage on the plane, and if he isn’t free to board the now re-fueled plane, they will execute the hostages. Without risking the lives of the passengers, the police grant Rane his freedom.
Rane again thinks he is the all knowing and all powerful cat’s meow, and again underestimates John Cutter. Cutter sneaks aboard through the planes landing gear as it takes off.
One by one, Cutter dispatches Rane’s loyal henchmen before unarming the reconstituted bomb of his original escape plan.
Finally, as the plane rockets through the air, Rane and Cutter square off in a scene that shows little regard for aviation safety. Each of the men take their turns attempting to throw the other through the open hatch door.
Just when Cutter seems like he is fighting a losing battle, he repeatedly kicks Rane in the dick! Yes my friends. Our hero resorts to low blows. This flusters Rane, as it would anyone, causing him to lose his grip on the edge of the open hatch and fall to his death, somewhere on the surface of the Earth below.
The film concludes with Cutter and the cute flight attendant, who he had awkward flirtations with throughout the picture, walking off into the night to better get to know each other, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
All in all “Passenger 57” is a pretty good little action flick. It's a hell of a lot better than other action films from it's time (“Showdown in Little Tokyo“), more serious too. I only wish the villain was more of an immediate threat. Rane prides himself on being an evil genius, but we don't get to see him do anything really intelligent. He's good at escaping, but he isn't very good at getting away.
Another drawback is the plane. Since the mid '70s, when hijacking a plane was in vogue, there have been countless theatrical and made for television films about just that; a small group of terrorists hijacking a plane with threats of blowing it up. For this reason “Passenger 57” is rather forgettable. By the time it was released in '92, the subject matter had been done, redone and lampooned, (“Airplane!”) with little room for improvement. Chuck Norris did it in the '80s and Harrison Ford did it again in the late '90s.
If only “Passenger 57” was over the top, then it might have had more lasting power throughout the years. There is no sex and the violence is tame by action movie standards. I think the studio was playing it safe with this one.
Talk about playing it safe, I noticed something rather interesting. I think “Passenger 57” is a '90s version of a blaxploitation film. I didn't notice it at first, but through the course of the film there are several subtle references to topical “black culture” of the early '90s. Tom Sizemore's character Sly refers to Cutter as “brother” several times, as if to seem casual and friendly, or even hip. But it comes off as goofy. It's something an embarrassing dad might do to seem cool in front of his kids.
Aside from this and several Arsineo Hall references, which to me imply that this may have been made with a black audience in mind, the film has a tone to it. Something I can't quite put my finger on. It's something vague. For instance Cutter encounters several small town southern police who first arrest him (not realizing that he is the hero), and then bust his balls throughout the rest of the film. They only start showing respect for him at the end of the film after Cutter has already saved the day. I think if this same movie was made in the '70s there would have been a few “N-bombs” dropped, thus showing how much of an up-hill battle Cutter was fighting to do the right thing and to be the hero. It isn’t everyday that I find myself thinking how racism could have made a movie better, but here I am.
I think the filmmakers/studio had all this in mind and were planning to make a film about a strong black hero, rather than one simply starring a black actor. But I think they were afraid to make these race related elements too obvious in fear of seeming racist. OR, perhaps the studio wasn't willing to gamble marketing a film to a minority fan base so they pulled the “questionable material” in order to broaden the audience and make more money. After all, Snipes was a pretty hot commodity at the time, regardless of the audience.
Either way, it seems “they”, the powers that be, pulled out any overt reference to race at the last minute, and what we're left with is a film that seems sanitized. The '90s were a strange time for race. It's too bad because “Passenger 57” had potential beyond it's limitations. Wesley Snipes could have been the next “Shaft”.
Anyhow, I'm Cory Carr and this has been another trip on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. I hope you panty-wastes learned a thing or two about airplane safety. I know I sure didn't. Until next time, Semper Fi!