Passenger 57

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Warner, widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, pan&scan, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], French Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, Spanish, French, double side-single layer, 30 chapters, production notes, theatrical trailers, rated R, 84 min., $24.98, street date 5/26/98.

Studio Line

Directed by Kevin Hooks. Starring Wesley Snipes, Bruce Payne, Tom Sizemore, Alex Datcher, Bruce Greenwood, Robert Hooks.

Air travel is safest, the FAA says. But the FAA never figured the risk with Charles Rane on Board. "The Rane of Terror" has masterminded four terrorist attacks. Soon there will be a fifth - and that's bad news for passengers on Flight 163. But there's good news too: the man in seat 57!

Wesley Snipe (U.S. Marshals, Demolition Man) earns his wings in this exciting airborne adventure. He plays John Cutter, an undercover security operative who enters the lavatory and exits to find Rane (Bruce Payne) and his gang have taken over. Cutter's next move is clear. Do. Or be done to.

If it's action you seek, Passenger 57 is the only way to fly!

Picture/Sound/Extras (C+/C+/C-)

Since Die Hard came out more than a decade ago, that seminal film has certainly inspired a long parade of imitators. These movies have used a variety of different settings, and while probably the most satisfying of these copycats was "Die Hard on a Bus" (Speed), the most popular environment seems to be "Die Hard on a Plane." The summer of 1997 alone produced two films that fell into this category (Con Air and Air Force One).

Probably the first film to fit into this subcategory was 1992's Passenger 57. (While 1990's Die Hard 2 took place at an airport, neither the hero nor the villains ever really became airborne.) It also was the first of the Die Hard imitators to feature a black hero, with Wesley Snipes playing the security agent who takes on the responsibility of halting a hijacking.

At that point, we cease to find anything about Passenger 57 that was original or novel. It's a competently made film that provides a modicum of excitement, but while I've certainly seen worse, I've also seen better. Other than the fact that at 84 minutes, it's surprisingly short, there's little about Passenger 57 that stands out from the crowd.

Probably the strongest aspect of Passenger 57 is the acting of its leads. While the days in which Wesley Snipes was viewed as a serious actor seem to be long gone, he nonetheless provides a compelling presence in his films, and Passenger 57 is no exception. He adds life and verve to his characters the lacks in his competitors such as Keanu Reeves, Steven Segall, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. It's more difficult to compare him to heavier hitters such as Harrison Ford, Nicolas Cage, or Bruce Willis, simply because those actors worked in much more compelling films than Passenger 57; on equal footing, I'd say that Snipes could probably keep up with the last two but not Ford.

Anyway, Snipes doesn't have a lot to work with in Passenger 57 but he makes the best of it and comes across well as an action hero. As psychotic villain Charles Rane, Bruce Payne has even less material to use in pursuit of his character. To say that the script leaves Rane undefined and vague is a serious understatement; it probably read "spooky psycho" and left the rest up to the actor. Nonetheless, Payne does a pretty good job in the role. He really has the spooky part down well; his Rane is one of the creepiest villains I've seen in a while, something that may be related to Payne's physical resemblance to Ted Levine, the actor who played Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs.

Actually, that kind of role seems more appropriate for Payne than does a charismatic leader like Rane. Payne does psycho very well, but the rest of the requirements of the role are somewhat lacking. Overall, I found his work to be pretty good, but not up to the level set by other actors in other films. While the heroes in these Die Hard imitators are frequently played by less than compelling actors, the same cannot be said for the villains. Look over that roster and you'll find tons of "A"-list actors: Jeremy Irons, Dennis Hopper, Tommy Lee Jones, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, John Malkovich, and more. Taken on his own, Payne's good, but compared to that line-up, he quickly falls back in the pack. (For my money, I doubt anyone will ever top Rickman in the original Die Hard. Much of that movie's success was due to his portrayal of Hans as a very different type of villain, one who could be absolutely cold and vicious but also one who possessed a charm and suaveness that hasn't been matched.)

I'm afraid there really isn't much else to say about Passenger 57. "Competent" is probably the best word to describe this film. It does its job capably and efficiently but with little verve or originality. You'll watch it, you'll probably enjoy it to a certain degree, and you'll probably forget about it five minutes after you stop the DVD from playing. It's a slightly better than average action film, but just slightly.

The same description holds true for the DVD of Passenger 57: it's better than the average DVD, but not by much. The picture looks pretty good but it rarely rises above that level; since it never falls BELOW that level either, that's acceptable, but this definitely is an unimpressive image. It's reasonably sharp, and colors looks fairly solid, but it also seems somewhat fuzzy and grainy through much of the film. In the end, it looks decent and is always watchable, but it's not a great example of the capabilities of DVD.

Passenger 57 boasts a "soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1," but don't expect Armageddon. To be honest, I'm not really sure why such a recent film needed remastering, but it doesn't sound like they did much. The rear channels are fairly active, though not up to the level you'd expect from this kind of film. Split surround usage happens but not often. Actually, the weakest aspect of the audio probably comes from the amount of poorly dubbed speech in the film. Lots of scenes clearly were rerecorded, and they didn't do an especially good job; I'm usually really bad at spotting ADR speech, so when it stands out to me so clearly, it must be pretty awful. Still, in the end, the sound mix for Passenger 57 works competently but not exceptionally; it's also just a little above average.

I found the complement of supplemental materials included on the Passenger 57 DVD to be just a little BELOW average. Basically, we get advertisements and a few televised pages of written information. The DVD features nine trailers, but only one is for Passenger 57; the rest are for other Warner Brothers films that either feature Wesley Snipes (such as Demolition Man) or fit within the genre (like Executive Decision) or both (U.S. Marshals). Hey, I won't complain because Warner included so many trailers on the DVD, since unlike VHS ads, they're easily avoided, but I'm also not really grateful for the addition of lots of promotional materials; it's better than nothing, but it doesn't earn too many points from me.

Better are the four segments that show written notes about the film and the subject. We learn a little about the production of Passenger 57 itself, as well as background on the genre of airplane films, some history of hijackings, and a retelling of the story of D.B. Cooper. This information is reasonably interesting, but no one will mistake Passenger 57 for some of the special edition DVDs featuring Snipes such as Blade and U.S. Marshals. All told, the Passenger 57 DVD is one very mediocre affair: mediocre film with mediocre picture, sound, and extras. It's a pleasant enough experience that I wouldn't recommend that you avoid it, but I clearly can't strongly advise you to buy it. If you already have a strong collection and need a decent "DVD fix," Passenger 57 may fit the bill, but newbies should probably look elsewhere.

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