British arch-terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) is about to undergo plastic surgery again to conceal his identity, but the cops know which clinic he is in and are preparing an ambush. Rane seems oblivious to this, more interested in going under the knife without anaesthetic, until he jumps up and grabs the scalpel from the surgeon and kills him with it, then rushes out of the operating theatre just as the law arrives to bring him in. He leaps through a window a few storeys up, though an umbrella breaks his fall and he is able to make a run for it without a scratch, but the police have made arrangements and he is captured. Now to get him to Los Angeles for trial - not something that would normally bother airline security man John Cutter (Wesley Snipes)...
Or is it? Well, seeing as how his name is above the title you'd imagine yes, Mr Snipes does have his work cut out in Passenger 57, one of the most cheerfully ludicrous thrillers of the nineties. There are many who would tell you that this was out and out bad, impossible to take seriously in fact, yet equally there are strong hints in the film that this was not intended to be taken wholly seriously. The strongest hint comes from Payne's baddie, a laughable villain who only lacks a moustache to twirl, the encapsulation of Hollywood's preference for casting English actors as the antagonists in action movies and one where Payne rose admirably to the challenge.
Naturally, as well as being able to put up with all kinds of physical punishment without slowing down noticeably - his stunt off the building at the beginning should tip you off that this is going to be very silly indeed - Rane has to be a genius as well, which goes along with that posh English accent a treat. If there's one thing action movies like to do is take over-intelligent characters down a peg or two, and Rane (nicknamed "The Rane of Terror" of course) is the perfect example of that. Who better to prove himself, and by extension every ordinary working man in America, better than some devious limey brainbox than Snipes?
So you can see the landscape we're travelling over here, but Passenger 57 distils every bit in those other movies that might share similarities with it into a heady brew of scenes that are itching for you to exclaim, "Wait a minute, no way would that happen!" This is actually one of those aeroplane disaster flicks that were popularised by the Airport series, a genre which stretched back to The High and the Mighty and forward to Air Force One, and in spite of not being taken massively seriously has proven surprisingly durable. Therefore it's not long before Cutter is sat in a jetliner which just so happens to be taking Rane to Los Angeles, flanked by two F.B.I. agents in a display of epic foolhardiness.
Just how foolhardy it was to escort the criminal in this manner is quickly revealed when among the other passengers Rane's men make their presence felt, killing the agents and hijacking the plane. The fact that one of the stewardesses was English (played by Elizabeth Hurley) should have alerted everybody that all was not well, but as it is the only hope is Cutter, who was in the toilet when the hijack took place. No matter that firing off the amount of bullets they do in this would have sent the plane hurtling groundwards in a matter of minutes, at least we get to see how mean Rane is when he not only shoots a passenger but one of his own henchmen as well: it doesn't do you good to be an innocent bystander in this film. They all end up at one of those airport fairgrounds (oh, come on, there must be hundreds of them) and if Snipes looks dynamic enough to handle these kind of thrills, the movie around him appears in more ramshackle shape. And yet, it's stupid enough to be highly amusing, proving that the worst kind of film is a boring one. Music by Stanley Clarke.