Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Turbulence (USA, 1997)

Definitely a woman’s film—they all seem to like it even if the men don’t. Probably has something to do with being able to identify with the hero. The real hero of this film is a woman, and while the babes out there seem to find her resourceful, brave and admirable, men seem to find her a little bit dumb. Seeing that these type of bloody, body-excessive thriller are primarily a man-thing, it is not surprising that Turbulence wasn't the biggest of successes, but it was obviously successful enough or it wouldn't have spawned two even trashier semi-sequels, Turbulence 2: Fear of Flying (1999 / trailer) and the ultra-trashy Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal (2001 / trailer).
That the film is so flawed is probably not the fault of director Robert Butler, who has had a career specializing primarily in television series and movies but for a few kiddy comedies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1970) and Hot Lead Cold Feet (1978) and the even rarer excursion into adult fare like the laughably dated Night of the Juggler (1980). His direction is perfectly acceptable and competent, and he even manages to sneak in a few truly memorable, disturbing scenes, like when the good girl stumbles down the aisle while left and right of her in the seats all the dead men are propped up “watching” It’s A Wonderful Life (1946 / trailer), or like the murder of the unimportant stewardess (Catherine Hicks) during which Ryan Weaver (Ray Liotta) obviously gets his rocks off. But Butler, and the film’s various actors, fights a losing battle against a crappy script with some hugely implausible—if not plain unbelievable—aspects.
The first mistake is that no airplane is going to have only 12 (or so) passengers, even if it is Christmas—the flight would be canceled and the passengers bumped to a different flight. Likewise, four stewards/stewardess for 12 odd people is also unrealistic—most airlines keep their personnel “on call”, thus an empty flight would simply have fewer stewards. Likewise, even if we overlook the fact that the oxygen masks don’t fall when a window gets shot out (though they do fall later in a different scene), no way in hell is it believable that a briefcase put against the window would be a successful hole stuffer, nor that it would stay in place during all the “turbulence” that follows, including a hilariously believable 360 twirl the plane makes while on auto pilot. The most obviously laughable mistakes come later, during the first unsuccessful landing attempt. Like, get real. We should believe that the wing of the plane can rip through a (steel structure) billboard and stay attached? That the wheels of the plane can knock the top off of a cement parking structure and not get ripped off? Scriptwriter Jonathan Brett obviously decided not to strain himself when he cobbled this laugh fest together.
And the story? (If you plan to see the film, skip this next paragraph.) Accused serial killer and rapist Ryan Weaver (Ray Liotta) gets busted and, forever polite and friendly and insistent of his innocence, gets put on a flight back to LA with some other killer, a bunch of heavily armed FBI guards, two pilots, four flight attendants and a variety of unimportant passengers. No time short, both pilots and all the macho men are dead and Ryan’s nice guy act disappears. He locks everyone up in a back area and tells Stewardess Lauren Holly (Teri Halloran) that he’s killed them all. Forever alternating between trying to land the plane and leaving it to fly on auto-pilot she, of course, does a lot of stupid stuff so that the tension stays high. The two fight a lot and Lauren also wanders around the empty plane crying while it does flips in the air before she finally blows Ryan’s brains out and can concentrate on landing the plane, not knowing that it has been decided to shoot the plane down over the ocean (desert?) rather than risk the chance that she crash it in the middle of the city....
Sound familiar? Well, think of Airport 75 (1975 / trailer)—but with a stewardess without crossed eyes—peppered liberally with Dead Calm (1989 / trailer) or Ultraviolet (1992 / trailer), add the speech Dustin Hoffman gives to the pilot flying the bomber at the end of Outbreak (1995 / trailer) and you’ve got the full story.
As Ryan, Ray Liotta delivers another one of his patented psycho performances à la Something Wild (1986 / trailer) or Unlawful Entry (1992 / trailer)—something he is good enough at, but has done once too often. Though functional and believable, his performance fails to surprise or impress because it is so expectable and rather one dimensional. Still, had the film been better, Liotta’s presence might’ve not been so bothersome—Christopher Walkin’s patented psycho performance is pretty much just as predictable, but unlike Liotta, Walkin (usually) makes more interesting films, and thus the predictability of his performance is (usually) less annoying.

Much harder to stomach is actually Jim Carrey’s ex-wife Lauren Holly as Teri Halloran. The script gives her character all the brains of Betty Cooper—who Holly played in Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again (1990)—but without either the humor or personality. The little the script gives her Holly fails in any way to really add to for most of the film, and by the time she finally starts getting her shit together and takes the bull by the balls, the (male) viewer doesn’t really care.
Turbulence is a crappy thriller, but if stoned, you will probably find it a passable comedy. The babes out there probably won’t see it this way, but they would probably rather rent My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997 / trailer) instead anyway.

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