Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Robert Butler
Stars: Ray Liotta, Lauren Holly, Ben Cross, Hector Elizondo, Rachel Ticotin, Brendan Gleeson, Catherine Hicks
The obvious temptation here would be to casually dismiss Turbulence as Airport 97! But thankfully this gripping yet often implausible and outrageously over the top thriller is much better than anything contained in that overblown series of disaster films from the ’70’s.
Flight attendant Teri Halloran (Lauren Holly, from Dumb And Dumber, etc) is in for an unexpectedly turbulent ride on this nearly deserted but otherwise seemingly routine Christmas Eve cross country flight from New York to LA. Along with the handful of passengers, two dangerous criminals are being transported under heavy armed guard – the charismatic but lethal Ryan Weaver (Ray Liotta, from Goodfellas, etc), a serial killer known as the Lonely Hearts Killer, and the vicious psychotic Stubbs (Brendan Gleeson). During the flight, Stubbs manages to kill one of his guards and get hold of a gun, and in the resultant bloody shoot-out Stubbs, the remaining FBI agents and both pilots are killed, while Weaver manages to set himself free, intent on continuing his homicidal spree.
With the two pilots dead, it is up to Teri to fly the plane (shades of Airport ’75!), while trying to fend off the murderous Weaver, who intends to let the plane crash. The beautiful but seemingly vulnerable Teri fits the ideal profile of Weaver’s previous victims, and she desperately tries to avoid his clutches. Only trouble is, in the confined spaces of a jumbo jet at 36, 000 feet there are not that many places to hide! Further complications ensue when the plane flies into a fierce storm, which, on a scale of 1 to 6, rates 6! Ground crews and anxious FBI agents can only wait helplessly in the control tower as Teri attempts to get the plane to LA and safety.
Robert Butler, a thirty year veteran who directed some landmark tv series of the ’60’s, handles the suspense and the technical effects superbly, injecting some genuine nail biting tension into this inherently silly but surprisingly enjoyable and competently staged thriller. A couple of impressive set pieces, such as the jumbo crashing through the roof top bar of a luxury hotel, are quite convincingly staged, while the stroboscopic lighting effects add to the unnerving and chillingly claustrophobic air of tightly orchestrated suspense.
In the best tradition of the disaster movies from yesteryear, Butler has assembled a strong cast to flesh out the characters. Holly is quite convincing as the resourceful stewardess trying to survive her terrifying ordeal, and reinvents herself as a credible action heroine with this very physically demanding role. Although the remarkably volatile Liotta has played a dangerous and unpredictable psychotic before (in both Something Wild and Unlawful Entry), here he raises the intensity of his performance a couple of notches, giving Weaver an assured mix of deceptive charm and cold menace that makes for a genuinely unsettling presence.
In supporting roles, Ben Cross (Chariots Of Fire, etc) plays a British pilot who talks Teri through the complicated process of flying a plane and the landing procedure, while Hector Elizondo (from Chicago Hope, etc) plays the determined and obsessive LA cop who knows Weaver and his habits intimately. Only George Kennedy, the one person to appear in all four Airport movies, is missing from this 90’s style variation, but Rachel Ticotin (Total Recall, etc) steps into his formidable shoes as a more than competent aviation trouble-shooter.
Turbulence is an exciting and suspenseful cinematic roller coaster ride, but you can bet that this is one film that won’t be showing on your next international flight!