Back when Die Hard (1988) hit theaters, the lone wolf vs. the bad guys suddenly became hugely popular again, and action stars started trying to duplicate Bruce Willis’ success with their own version of the tale – especially after the success of Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) proved the original’s success wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Steven Seagal brought Die Hard (1988) to the water with his version, Under Siege (1992), and Wesley Snipes brought Die Hard (1988) to the air with Passenger 57.
Snipes again hit it big nearly a decade later with his portrayal of the title character in Blade (1998), but before that he skyrocketed to action superstardom with his role in Passenger 57. But, while everyone may have enjoyed the action-packed tale back in the early 90’s, would it still be as enjoyable nearly 20 years later?
Wesley Snipes’s character, John Cutter, at first seems to fit the stereotypical lone wolf characterization rather well. Toned and well-trained in various fighting techniques for a vaguely inferred former job, he’s now a security consultant for airline safety. Despite his new job, he is a bit afraid of flying on airplanes – all seemingly in-tune with Bruce Willis’ John McClane character. And yet, while both Cutter and McClane manage to eke through tight situations with cunning, McClane possesses a finesse that Cutter seems to lack. While McClane is believable as an everyday Joe barely managing to squeeze through situations by using both his wits and his training, Cutter seems to bungle through through sheer luck more than anything else – partly thanks to Snipes’ over-use of a wide-eyed surprised look on his face as he manages to squeak through each fight.
Unfortunately, this wide-eyed stare helps viewers remember that Cutter is nothing more than a copy of McClane, rather than a truly fresh character. However, the viewer will still stick around to watch Cutter keep escaping seemingly impossible situations, albeit with a much bigger grain of salt – and less vested interest in the character. And when Cutter begins to take charge of the situation, by suddenly large, mainly unexplained, leaps in logic, the viewer – who hasn’t really connected with the character rather than to lump him in the “good guy” category – will just shake their head in chagrin at one scripted moment after the next.
The “villain” of the picture, Charles Rayne (portrayed by a vaguely familiar Bruce Payne), however, does a good job of getting viewers to firmly oppose him, mainly through the use of some rather cliched sequences that stress his sheer evilness and cunning. Whether he’s asking for a hostage’s name and family status before calmly executing him, frightening a young child with a maniacal grin, or attacking his lawyer until he recites the mantra “Charles Rayne is not insane” over and over, the film sets up this rather nonthreatening character as a major threat – and a worthy opponent for the “good guy”, John Cutter.
The rest of the cast is largely ignorable, aside from brief flashes of entertainment from Elizabeth Hurley and Alex Datcher as flight attendants with very different roles in the action. Unfortunately, the strong female role is largely forgotten in this man-oriented action film. True, both characters are a bit more feisty than the typical “damsel-in-distress” role, with both contributing some effort to either help or hinder the hero, but most of it is merely for show, a distraction until the good guy can get a handle on the situation and save the day.
As for the rest, they tend to fall into stereotypical patterns early on, including, but not limited to: brusque FBI cop, criminal henchman, bumbling hick-town sheriff, master of disguise (who isn’t very masterful, but who seems to easily blend into crowds nonetheless), and more. These cardboard stereotypes again reveal the film’s obvious attempts to get finished as quickly as possible in order to ride the Die Hard (1988) success-wave…yet forgetting that part of the success with the Die Hard (1988) series was it’s seeming ability to give normally cardboard characters a presence of the their own.
Moving Die Hard (1988) to a plane, however, is a wonderful idea, although John McClane’s much more intense fear of flying would have been an added bonus – much more so than Cutter’s quickly forgotten uneasiness on airplanes, at any rate. Still, within the confines of the seemingly small space, the film manages to move quickly, offering multiple fight scenes in different sections – and with different outcomes.
At one point, the fight moves off of the plane after an unscheduled stop, and, unfortunately, lets viewers realize except for the interest of moving the fight onto a moving plane, Passenger 57 would be just another run-of-the-mill action flick, barely indistinguishable from the many others being released every week.
As long as the fight continues on the plane, however – and despite it’s over-population of cardboard cutouts – Passenger 57 keeps the viewer entertained and intrigued. At the time, moving the fight to a plane was something that set this apart. Now, however, with many more competitors in the field – including some moving true stories that still haunt viewers – Passenger 57 has lost it’s mystique.
Worth watching more to try and relieve the glory days of plane hijacking films back before 9/11 made them a reality to the majority of Americans, Snipes’ attempt to bring a copycat John McClane to the skies isn’t quite the thrill ride it used to be – and is more patently obvious as a wannabe Die Hard (1988) that just doesn’t match up to the original.
Passenger 57 is still a decent popcorn flick, and the viewers should be able to overlook the little stuff as they settle in for some fast-paced action, and very little thinking.