TURBULENCE is kind of an also-ran in the world of ‘90s studio thrillers. They used to put pretty big budgets into these mainstream action/thriller hybrids, especially if they starred Harrison Ford and/or Tommy Lee Jones. I guess psycho Ray Liotta is a little more low rent than that, and heroine Lauren Holly wasn’t exactly a Jodie-Foster-sized marquee name (she was known for Picket Fences and DUMB AND DUMBER). But if Wikipedia is correct, the budget for this one was bigger than THE FUGITIVE, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, PATRIOT GAMES, THE NET or SPEED! So although most of the story is confined to one 747 it has plenty of scope. It feels like a big DIE HARD type production.

Or maybe I should say DIE HARD 2 – that’s the movie I thought of when it was at the airport, with its attention to the pomp and circumstance of a law enforcement caravan arriving to search the plane before bringing prisoners aboard. It even takes place at Christmas, with Christmas music. Anyway, I have a soft spot for this type of movie. Any stupidity that may or may not be involved did not get in the way of my enjoyment of this one.

Liotta plays one of the prisoners, Ryan Weaver, accused Lonely Hearts Killer. Holly plays Teri Halloran, who’s in the flight crew (“She’s only a stewardess, for chrissakes.” “Flight attendent.”) Her co-workers, including Maggie (Catherine Hicks, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME) warn her to be impersonal when serving drinks to the prisoners, but she tries to act normal when Weaver forces small talk. And then he turns and smiles at her from across the plane. Not good.

See, she’s just been dumped, so she’s emotionally vulnerable. In the opening, when Weaver was introduced buying a teddy bear for a woman, it was intercut with Teri waiting for a romantic evening with her fiancee, giving us the illusion of a relationship between them. Weaver acts like a sweetheart (especially compared to fellow prisoner Stubbs [Brendan Gleeson, JOHN WOO’S MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II]), claims to be innocent, and in fact was arrested on the basis of planted evidence. So it really seems like they’re either setting him up to be complicated or (this is what I figured) for her to be tricked into thinking he’s complicated, and going Stockholm on us. But really there’s just a little bit where she tries to be polite to him and then it quickly proceeds to the part where he’s openly a maniac and not trying to fool anybody. She does offer him sex at one point, but it’s in bad faith.

Basically the shit hits the fan because Stubbs attempts to escape, a hole gets shot in the plane and the pilot is killed. Weaver pretends to be trying to do the right thing at first, but it’s a relief when he just unleashes the mega and starts chasing Teri around the plane.

He might be some kind of criminal supergenius, but he’s not your typical one. There’s a part where Teri discovers he’s murdered like half of the passengers off screen. That takes skill. But if it was, say, John Lithgow in RICOCHET, Stubbs’ failed escape would’ve been something he’d manipulated as part of a larger plan to escape. No such luck for Weaver. He assumes he’ll be executed if they land the plane safely so he’s just on a suicide mission to terrorize everybody and have evil fun until it’s over. OUT FOR JUSTICE on a plane.

Probly the best setpiece involves the titular air turmoil. The plane is on autopilot, spinning out of control in “a level 6 storm,” and Weaver chases Teri through the cabin. The lights keep going on and off, creating an eerie strobe, and the chaotic-flight-at-night atmosphere is strong, with the oxygen masks dropping down, plus an occasional dead body out of the overhead storage compartment.

I liked that better than the later section all about Teri having to land the plane with help from a pilot on the radio (Ben Cross, ) before the authorities direct Wing Commander W. Hadfield “Moondog” Hammer (Cooper Huckabee, THE FUNHOUSE, SPACE COWBOYS) to shoot them down. But that’s part of what makes this a Big Movie. The best part that would not be in the DTV version is when she flies too low over Vegas and the landing gear chops through a fancy karaoke lounge. Then they buzz a parking garage and a truck gets stuck on the wheel like toilet paper on a shoe.

There’s a gross cliche that movies often mention Ted Bundy (in relation to charming people being killers), but I like that this one specifically refers to the TV movie starring Mark Harmon. In a more obvious pop culture reference the cops are said to “watch too many DIRTY HARRY movies.” I’m torn because I agree with the underlying sentiment but I don’t think there’s such a thing as watching too many DIRTY HARRY movies. Just taking the wrong things out of them.

Hector Elizondo (who gets an “and” credit) plays Lt. Aldo Hines, the guy who busted Weaver. He gets to do a bunch of show-offy profiler talk at the beginning, but isn’t much use after that. Whatever they’re trying to explore about his moral failing in planting evidence doesn’t really work for a movie where the joy is in how cartoonishly evil the villain is.

I guess Weaver is supposed to really have an effect on women. Maggie doesn’t trust him, but blabs to him about Teri having relationship problems. Teri knows he’s a psycho, but answers questions about her pets and shit. He has this thing about asking people’s favorite movie and book and stuff like that. I think the idea is that “The Lonely Hearts Killer” makes first date small talk all the time. Maggie’s favorite book is “I like… Stephen King” and Teri’s favorite movie is GONE WITH THE WIND. It’s kind of funny that in those “let’s all refer to ‘70s TV shows and shit like Quentin does” years there was a movie where the protagonists were so, as they say now, “basic.”

I’d prefer a heroine with more personality. Weaver is so evil, but he’s so much more fun. He’s drinking champagne, chopping up the plane with a fire ax, making larger-than-life facial expressions, and saying some funny shit. Here are the lines I wrote down in my notes:

“You’re gonna be the first cop to die with a plane up his ass!”

“I’m never flyin this airline again.”

“Ha ha ha! You gotta love ‘er!”

“Well I didn’t like Gone With the Wind. HA HA HA! It’s all subjective!”

For the record, this is not a movie specifically about Christmas, but it has plenty of the trappings: Christmas trees and lights all over the plane, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE projected as an in-flight movie and “Buffalo Gals” referenced, garland used to tie something, Weaver using “Fa la la la la la la la la” for intimidation.

Director Robert Butler was a prolific TV director from 1960 to the early ‘90s. He also directed NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER and created Remington Steele. Screenwriter Jonathan Brett wrote DYLAN THOMAS (starring Gary Oldman), NANCY & FRANK – A MANHATTAN LOVE STORY and OCCUPANT. I’m not sure how these guys got to do a big studio thriller, but it turned out okay – I mean, in the sense that it’s kinda fun. But at the time it lost the studio tens of millions of dollars. The #1 movie that week, THE RELIC, is also somewhat forgotten these days, but made more that week than TURBULENCE did total. The opening was also crushed by EVITA, MICHAEL, SCREAM, JERRY MAGUIRE, JACKIE CHAN’S FIRST STRIKE and THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT.

Furthermore, the reviews were terrible. Holly was even nominated for a “Worst Actress” Razzie, which she lost to Demi Moore in G.I. JANE. So that’s Chapter 2,468 in the ongoing saga of how fucking stupid are those dumb motherfuckers at the Razzies if they thought that fucking barnburner of a performance by Moore was bad just because she was married to Bruce Willis or whatever. I hate those fucking people. I hope they wake up every morning regretting that they tried to use their bad taste to make other people’s lives worse.

Anyway, TURBULENCE got the last laugh: it did well enough on video and/or was a well-known-enough title to warrant unrelated DTV sequels in 1999 and 2001. HA HA HA! It’s all subjective!

Merry Christmas, friends. Hang on tight. We can land this.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020 at 11:35 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Turbulence”

  1. Here in the, UK, this featured in BBC film critic Barry Norman’s review of 1997 with Barry judging who had the best villianous leer…Ray Liotta, or Jon Voight in Anaconda. Voight won!

    In a festive mood I rewatched Die Hard 2 on Sunday. Hard to believe it’s now 30 years old (and I was given the VHS for Xmas 29 years ago) How the world seemed simpler then!

  2. Somehow I never saw this one. It came out in that brief window when I had better shit to do with my time than watch mediocre action movies. If I’d known it qualifies as Christmas action, I’d have remedied that situation long ago.

    Mike: I still remember the Christmas I got the first two DIE HARDs (at the time the only two DIE HARDs) on a double-pack VHS bundle. Probably watched both of them 30 times each before finally replacing them on DVD sometime around 2004. Hard to believe that the second one is now as old as PSYCHO was in 1990. That just doesn’t feel right.

  3. I didn’t see it until last year, because it truly is semi-forgotten. Never on TV, nowhere streamable, DVDs OOP, but still easier to get your hands on than JOE VS THE VOLCANO.

    It’s enjoyable. Liotta steals the show, but I was surprised how much more it felt like a disaster movie than a thriller. Not that there is anything wrong with it.

  4. I used to volunteer at the same suicide hotline that Ted Bundy did way back in the day. One of the supervisors had been around during Ted’s day and she HATES when people talk about how charismatic he was and that no one had any idea. She said he was weird and inappropriate with callers. Maybe she just doesn’t want to be one of those people he fooled, but I tend to believe her. She’s a savvy old bird.

  5. I used to watch this, Money Train and Fled quite a lot in the late 90s/early 00s. Then again I do have a really soft spot for critically panned and commercially unsuccessful theatrically released 90s action movies.

  6. This pulled me into cinemas when I was a student in Australia for 2 reasons: A giant crush I’d developed on Lauren Holly on account of her playing this sexy deputy on Picket Fences (a quirky small town series that boasted some pretty good actors and writing which did not survive beyond a single season) and that after PASSENGER 57,I just developed this weird fascination with DIE HARD ON A PLANE-type actioners. Sadly, unlike PASSENGER 57, EXECUTIVE DECISION or AIR FORCE ONE, I’ve only watched this once and have no recollection of any scene. Which, equally sadly, makes this the SECOND Ray Liotta starring flick after NO ESCAPE/ESCAPE FROM ABSOLOM which I recall enjoying but have no idea why.

  7. Beans, I second that! I am irresistibly drawn to certain action movies ( a lot of them in the ’90s) that I’m convinced only 10 other people besides me have watched. Even hardcore action aficionados among my friends can easily remember Kevin Hooks launched Wesley as an action star and made a Patrick Swayze trucker flick, but can’t seem to remember that sandwiched between the 2 was a prisoners on the lam actioner with Morpheus and one of the Baldwin brothers.

    I am also convinced I am one of 3 people on Planet Earth who enjoyed another Baldwin brother actioner with Cindy Crawford.

  8. KayKay – Picket Fences had 4 seasons! Did they not show them in Australia? It seemed like a good show at the time but I suspect it’s one of those ahead-of-its-time-but-then-surpassed ones where you had to be there.

  9. Oh, PICKET FENCES holds up really well, but it does indeed suffer a bit from 90s Network TV pacing and how David E. Kelley rode his style into the ground in the 2 decades after that, so of course it lacks a certain amount of the freshness, that made it stand out back then. But I guess that’s inevitable.

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  11. I know it’s a bot, but you can’t tell me GUSTAVO WOLTMANN doesn’t sound like a character out of Quentin Tarantino’s next movie.

  12. I remember PICKET FENCES being heavily advertised on Satellite TV in the UK when my family first got it, but I was pretty young and I think I used to get it mixed up with GROWING PAINS! I enjoyed much of Kelly’s formulaic work in the 90s and 00s, but while I admire that he seems to have pulled off a reinvention, I’m not sure I’m on board for his modern, “golden age of TV” serialised storyteller incarnation, or at least the first Season of BIG LITTLE LIES brought out all my most Majestykian feelings about modern TV by the end.

    As for TURBULENCE, I’ve seen it, I only really remember Liotta getting really mean (and sinking really low) with the other flight attendant. I know the third film was pretty beloved on some parts of the 00s internet, to the extent that I know one of the main characters is called Slade Craven.

  13. Vern- Thanks for the correction. You’re right. I got PICKET FENCES confused with another quirky show set in a small town AMERICAN GOTHIC (also ahead of it’s time) which lasted only a season. Although I’m not sure they screened all 4 seasons of FENCES in Australia which wouldn’t be surprising as their programming could get erratic especially with shows which didn’t rate highly with viewers.

  14. “I enjoyed much of Kelly’s formulaic work in the 90s and 00s”

    So was I and I think most of the world too, but I also can understand why everything he did after BOSTON LEGAL bombed so hard, that he needed to do something radically (for him) different.

  15. We got this and Relic the same day at the triplex I worked at, and I regret catching only parts of it, opting for Hyams-helmed creature madness over Liotta nuttiness.

    Especially since this is peak Lauren Holly, to boot!

    (The sequels are bonkers!)

  16. Vern, Merry Xmas and thanks for helping us all through a shitty weird year.
    It’s been awesome having you with us through all this madness, keeping things real.
    Thanks too for shining the spotlight on a bunch of interesting, crazy and fun alternative xmas movies. This sort of stuff is why we keep coming back to you day in day out.
    I read an article today that said that watching christmas movies all year round can be really good for your mental health.
    This gave me a mad idea – for the whole of 2021, I’m gonna watch a xmas movie every day and try and chart what that experience is like. Not so sure if it will be good for the brain, but I’m gonna have fun finding out!
    Thanks to you, I’ve realised that xmas movies don’t all need to be Hallmark mega cheese, so I’m gonna make sure to mix in as much of the crazy good shit as possible. Turbulence and Mother Krampus are now on the list

    Ho ho ho!

  17. KayKay – Oh yeah, I can see why you’d get those titles mixed up. Picket Fences would’ve been a great title for American Gothic! Very different show, though, and I also loved that at the time and was disappointed that it didn’t continue. I remember around then thinking it was amazing that Gary Cole was Mike Brady in the BRADY BUNCH movies but also the scary characters on that show and in A SIMPLE PLAN.

    Gary – Thank you. I’m impressed by your experiment and look forward to hearing the results! I wonder if when the decorations start going up in 2021 it will be more or less exciting for you?

  18. Wasn’t there like 3 Turbulence films?

    Merry Christmas, Vern! From a fan in Singapore. You’re my favorite reviewer and one that i trust.

    P.S – Seeing Milla Jovovich’s MONSTER HUNTER tomorrow. Hope it’ll be fun!

  19. Pray for me…

  20. I remember hearing about this movie through the prevue channel back in the late-1990s. I then found out that there were sequels. I will say that I have only watched the first two, but not the third, even though that one has a ridiculous premise that is drawing me to watch it.

    I first watched this movie a long time ago because I found and bought a DVD of this at Walgreens for only $2. Ah, the times when you go to a corner drug store or even a supermarket, or even a place like Big Lots and find DVDs for sale because the retailers couldn’t sell them, so they sell them to these places and said places will put them up for dirt cheap. Anyway, I remember not being a big fan of this movie. Part of me is sort of tempted to revisit it, but I remember thinking it was “eh” when I saw it. Ray Liotta was a great villain, though. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be in the vein of Passenger 57 or Air Force One (Man, I need to finally watch those films), but it turned out to be more of a thriller that took place on a plane. I even felt bad for Catherine Hicks’s character. I might give it another go. I don’t know. I will say that I didn’t really like the second one, though.

  21. Finally saw this as movie #203 of my ‘watch a Xmas movie every day for a year’ quest.
    A load of silly fun, but I can kinda see why Lauren Holly’s career never really took off.
    Once Liotta’s ‘nice guy’ mask slips, it’s like watching that ‘Ray Liotta in Goodfellas laughing’ meme for a solid hour. Which can only be a good thing!

  22. Unbelievable:

    Ray Liotta Dies: ‘Goodfellas’ Star & ‘Field Of Dreams’ Actor Was 67

    A shocker. Ray Liotta, the terrific actor whose career breakout came in the 1990 Martin Scorsese crime classic Goodfellas after co-starring in Field of Dreams, has died. He was 67. Deadline hears h…

  23. My sentiments exactly! A shitty thing to wake up to!

    RIP sir!

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