Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: We offer five days of action vehicles, each starring a different member of The Expendables.
Passenger 57 (1992)
A film whose each subsequent plot turn makes less sense than the last, Passenger 57 is just about the epitome of clichéd 1990s action nonsense—and as such, it’s the perfect vehicle for Wesley Snipes and his particular brand of over-the-top, don’t-tread-on-me heroism. Tortured by his failure to save his wife during a robbery, airlines security expert John Cutter (Snipes) gets a second change to make things right—complete with a surrogate spouse stand-in (Alex Datcher)—when a flight he’s taking to L.A. is hijacked by British aristocrat terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne), who the FBI mind-bogglingly saw fit to transport via commercial air even though he’s notorious for hijacking planes. What follows is a battle between Cutter and Rane that pits black against white, with Rane’s sub-Hans Gruber Euro ruthlessness (and his cadre of accomplices, including a young Elizabeth Hurley) colliding with Snipes’ martial-arts-aided power.
Furthering the clumsy racial dichotomy, Cutter is misidentified by an elderly passenger as Arsenio Hall, helped by a friend (Tom Sizemore) who jokingly refers to himself as the hero’s “brotha,” and eventually has to deal with a redneck sheriff whose underlings call him “boy.” These all prove further examples of Cutter’s difference from those around him, which Passenger 57 casts as a positive quality. In a decade dominated by fair-skinned supermen like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Segal, and Van Damme, the fact that director Kevin Hooks’ movie makes Snipes’ blackness his greatest attribute almost comes across as progressive.
Otherwise, however, the film is just an amusingly goofy exercise in formula, featuring numerous shots of Snipes kicking adversaries in the face and building to a third act situated at a rural airfield run by a literal gray-haired mom and pop—and, then later, at a nearby carnival where Cutter combats bad guys on a Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. Entertainingly ludicrous, Passenger 57 peaks when its still-awesome signature catchphrase (“Always bet on black”) is punctuated by one of cinema’s all-time silliest zooms into close-up.
Availability: Passenger 57 is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netlix or your local video store, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.