Seldom bet on cack.
Always bet on black. If I learned nothing else in my six years of secondary school education then at least I departed fully aware of the dangers inherrent in dissing Mr. Wesley Snipes. The instrument of my teaching? Passenger 57. Coming off the back of that early nineties action movement where pretty much every film could be described as "Die Hard on a bus/train/dressing table", this little number marked a progression for Snipes from low-rent black character actor to bona fide action leading man. Pretty much passing Steven Seagal in the opposite direction, Snipes became a bankable mid-budget studio cheque guarantee card for the action production line, and the throwaway success of Passenger 57 confirmed that status.
Ultra-slick (for the period) and utterly disposable, Passenger 57 was actually quite exciting at the time, though that same time has certainly taken it's toll over the years. Setting up it's protagonist as a tough maverick who feels responsible for the death of the only woman he's ever loved (gosh, how original), Snipes plays airline security expert John Cutter; your usual common or garden tough-talking, maverick, ex-cop yadda yadda yadda you can fill in the blanks yourself. He probably makes a decent living at it too, but one man has a plan that's most definitely going to take the edge off his day...
Bruce Payne, truly a man of limited emotive means plays Charles Rane, a career terrorist and all-round Nasty Man who the feds have seen fit to transport to prison on a passenger plane. Sounds daft? Well if the United States government isn't worried about it then you probably shouldn't be either. Mind you, if someone with the equally limited thespian protocol of Liz Hurley turned up as a member of the cabin crew as she does here, we'd probably understand you pressing the eject button under those heightened circumstances. Now as luck would have it Snipes just happens to be on the same flight as Payne, Hurley and all the other troublesome terrorists, and wouldn't you just know it, all hell breaks loose as Rane makes his bid for freedom! Golly, gosh and Swizzlesticks!
What folllows is bog-standard 90s counter-terrorist hokum of the highest order, both on and off the ground. Don't ask how or why we have gunfights and kickboxing at a fairground because I can't be arsed explaining, just accept that there are perfectly reasonable, logical explanations for this and any other number of convoluted plot turns. Or should that be plot holes? Passenger 57 is one of those films so thinly thought out by it's writer that it's willful abandonment of all things sensible makes it all the more charming. Hell, if you can't blow shit up without considering every little practicality then what's the point? Director Kevin Hooks certainly agrees, laying on the cheese so thickly you'd think this movie was a bagel. First rule of cheap action: never let anything get in the way of the next explosion, or indeed the next cliche.
Fortunately for the viewer, admidst all the tomfoolery and macho posturing ("Always bet on black!" - was ever there a more pointless outburst?) The Wes is on fine comic form, delivering the kind of occasional borderline camp and willingness to poke fun at himself viewers of the Blade movies will be familiar with. With tongue firmly in cheek he has the sense to call it exactly as he sees it, and while one suspects director Hooks might have been taking things a little too seriously, he's hardly likely to have put the mighty Snipes in his place.
Come the movie's denoument you'll either be chuckling insanely at the nonsensicality of it all, or perhaps sound asleep on the sofa with half a packet of Walkers Sensations spilling haphazardly onto the floor. Hopefully it will be the former, for few other movies of the period offer such delights as Liz Hurley shooting people in the face, old ladies mistaking Snipes for Arsenio Hall, people being pushed off ferris wheels and quick but brutal fisticuffs that are inexplicably accompanied by the pervasive sound of bongo drums.
Unfortunately I must mark Passenger 57 in comparison with it's contemporary counterparts rather than it's peers, and it's clear that although cliche and macho posturing remains in abundance even today, something is cruelly lacking from the movie when viewed from afar. Wether things have somehow moved on in this post-Matrix world or the youthful haze of the early 90s' testosterone years clouded my judgement at the time is unclear. Whatever the cause though, viewing this movie today leaves me feeling tired, empty and more than a little bored, and it truly does pain me to say so. Still, despite it's genuine 2-star status, let us toast our youth and award Passenger 57 an extra star for being that friend who, though we may have drifted apart in recent years, remains in the memory as a strong shoulder in formative times. Bless you Mr Snipes. I will always bet on black.
Disko awards this mooooovie 3 out of 5 bongo beats.
Bruce Payne (Charles Rane)
Tom Sizemore (Sly Delvecchio)