We recently told you to stay out of the water, ’cause there might be sharks or aliens or piranhas or Dustin Hoffman or who knows what down there. Now we’re saying it might be a good idea to stay out of the air, too, because a little gremlin or Pac-Man-ish monsters or bad jokes or Bruce Payne might be lurking around up there. Here are a few examples of times when the skies aren’t so friendly.
A rousing little Die Hard wannabe, Passenger 57 is a ticket back to a time when Wesley Snipes was almost a full-blown movie star rather than a direct-to-video hack hiding from the IRS (or whatever government organization he’s currently in trouble with). Wes plays a security expert on board a passenger plane with the likes of Bruce Payne and other terrorist baddies (including an evil Elizabeth Hurley); soon, Payne’s plans are being foiled left and right as Wes offers quips such as “Always bet on black!” At a lean and mean 82 minutes, Passenger 57 makes every frame count, resulting in a surprisingly satisfying thriller — you might end up a frequent flyer with this one.
This 1983 homage to the excellent television series is lukewarm at best until director George Miller (of the Mad Max movies) steps in for the fourth and final segment. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is a redux of an old episode starring William Shatner; here, John Lithgow plays a passenger on board a commercial airplane during a lightning storm whose fear of flying turns into sheer terror when he sees a little green goblin on the wing of the plane, messin’ around with the engine. Of course, none of the crew members or his fellow passengers believe him, leaving him to look on helplessly as the creature continues to wreck havoc. A great story from genre master Richard Matheson, and Lithgow is perfect in a role that calls for him to express something he’s quite good at: indignant hysteria.
A TV movie that ends with a freeze frame of the cast arm-in-arm and sullying forth to face a bright new day can’t be all bad, right? Even though The Langoliers is yet another so-so (and sometimes borderline awful) Stephen King adaptation, it’s got the benefit of a good cast, including David Morse, Bronson Pinchot and Dean Stockwell, and director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) emphasizes the inter-character conflicts above all else to help us look beyond the beyond-laughable CG title monsters. A few people wake up on board an airplane, where the rest of the crew and passengers have disappeared; they soon deduce that they went through a “time-rip” and are now inhabiting an area outside the space-time continuum — where hairy Pac-Man-like monsters want to eat them. Yeah, it ends up actually making sense, sort of — despite some heavy turbulence here and there, this is actually a pretty good ride aboard King Airlines.
Yeah, it features a lot of the same jokes from the original Airplane!, but some of those were pretty good jokes, right? The presence of Leslie Nielsen is sorely missed, but Airplane II is still worth the trip, taking place in a near-future where the moon’s been colonized and Robert Hays has gone crazy; this episode’s near-disaster involves a lunar shuttle being sent on a collision course with the sun after the ship’s computer goes haywire. Lots of pokes at 2001: A Space Odyssey and other sci-fi flicks abound — and William Shatner is in it, offering such astute observations as “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.” So just get on board, will ya? If you don’t like one gag, chances are another’s right around the corner that you might dig better.
An airplane flying through a thunderstorm has virtually no chance of being structurally damaged by a lightning strike, but if AIrspeed followed the rules of physics, well… there wouldn’t be an Airspeed, now would there? A private jet gets struck by lightning, which causes a loss of oxygen and incapacitates every passenger and crew member on board… except for a teenage girl (Elisha Cuthbert), who’s the spoiled brat daughter of the plane’s owner. Now it’s up to her to land the thing, with the help of an air traffic controller. Despite its reckless love of non-realism, Airspeed is good for some thrills and chills — and it’s fun to watch a young Cuthbert stuck in a completely ridiculous situation before she would make a career of getting into such predicaments as Kim Bauer on 24.