'Passenger 57': Snipes along for a ho-hum ride

November 06, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Wesley Snipes is such a singular, riveting presence on screen it seems a shame to waste him on something as generic as "Passenger 57." It's like putting Anthony Hopkins or Al Pacino in an Alpo commercial

The hijack thriller is cobbled together out of pieces of other movies that, generally, weren't any good either. It's strictly a for-the-dollars and by-the-numbers money machine.

Snipes plays some kind of vaguely defined "security expert" who is haunted by guilt because he tried to stop a holdup at a convenience store and only succeeded in getting his wife killed. Thus he's the traditional thriller hero, the exiled Achilles sulking in his tent, drawn back into battle by the importunings of lesser men.

At last agreeing to become the head of security for an international airline, he's flying to L.A. (in coach!) when, by coincidence, he finds himself on a flight with the notorious

terrorist Charles Rane, recently and bloodily captured by the FBI. The Rane character, an icy Brit aristocrat who enjoys issuing little ironic drolleries before he blows people away, is clearly modeled on Alan Rickman's devastatingly funny turn in the same role in "Die Hard." But actor Bruce Payne just isn't up to it; his terrorist is a dim, conventional presence with no quirks that make him engaging.

The movie never labors with any intensity to create a sense of reality; the details are all missing, and things happen in the screenplay by David Loughery and Dan Gordon simply because if they didn't, there would be no movie at all. The film has no subtext, no interesting little quirks; it's milled from the alloy of cliche and expectations.

It so happens that Rane's terrorist unit (politics unspecified; why not make them South Africans and give the movie an interesting buzz?) has quickly infiltrated the airline and hijacks the plane. By another oafish coincidence, Snipes is in the bathroom when the action goes down. He emerges to wage a guerrilla war in the confines of the airliner against the hijackers and Rane.

But director Kevin Hooks can never get much out of the claustrophobic interior of the airplane, which seems to have more secret passages and oddly placed doors than a puzzle palace, but almost no personality. Remember how real the building felt in "Die Hard"? And as recently as six weeks ago, in "Under Siege," the hijacked battleship supplied a compelling milieu. This airliner could be a barber shop or a cafeteria, it's so blandly imagined.

It doesn't help that Snipes' martial arts skills aren't nearly as impressive as Steven Seagal's; the fights all look phony. And stock characters -- dour FBI agents, stupid Southern redneck sheriffs -- bring the level of the piece down even lower.

Snipes emerges pretty much unscathed, however, and his relationship with Alex Datcher as a flight attendant gives the film just the faintest tinge of a human core. The rest is bang bang and boom boom, not particularly well-done.

'Passenger 57'

Starring Wesley Snipes.

Directed by Kevin Hooks.

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R.

... **

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