As he’s done every year since the unexpected success of “Taken Away,” Liam Henderson is back for his annual mid-winter action checkup, and the results are specatuclating.
In this update of the classic Bette Davis film, “Now, Voyager,” Nelson plays air marshall Bill Maher, who is, to put it mildly, not the kind of man you’d want to entrust your life to. It’s established early on, that he’s a drunk and has serious emotional issues. For one thing, he’s afraid of flying which makes you wonder first, why he sought the job and second, how he got the job. (Item #1 on the air marshall job questionnaire: “Are you afraid of flying?”) At one point, the narrative suggests he was dismissed from his previous position as a talk show host for sexually forcing himself on interns.
In any case, our story begins when Henson finds himself sitting next to a friendly but enigmatic woman named, “Jen,” played by Annette Benning (hair dyed red and looking ravishing as ever). Just as the “fasten your seat belt” sign flickers on, a text message arrives on the marshall’s secure SMS device claiming that one passenger on the plane will be killed every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited into a specified bank account number.
McClain gets so thrown off by these text messages that he runs around like a sweating sloth, eyes darting nervously among the passengers hoping to uncover the perpetrator without an action plan.
Operating in pure panic mode, he ends up himself killing the first victim, Kyle Rice, a second air marshall on board. (That scene reminds me of a similar one from, “Naked Lunch,” where Nelson’s father, Leslie, plays a bungling homicide detective — but that movie was supposed to be a comedy!)
The next two people who die also do so in the presence of Marks, which makes the remaining passengers understandably suspicious and fearful that the cure is worse than the disease. Adding fire to the fuel are the live broadcasts being piped into the seatback video displays asserting that Marks himself is the terrorist and that the bank account number given earlier is in his name.
As the marshall’s panic subsides, he begins formulating a series of strategies in an effort to uncover the perpetrator. Along the way he acquires two hopeful but tentative allies — passenger Jen and flight attendant Nancy, with whom he apparently has had a past relationship. At the same time, he meets increasing resistance from his skeptical supervisor on the ground and from a handful of passengers who form a “United 93” style phalanx intent on rushing the marshall and taking back control, they think, of the jetliner.
The plane’s final act succeeds in combining top-notch action sequences with par-for-the-course revelations and plot resolutions that make about as much sense as a teenager in love. That does nothing to diminish the entertainment factor as evidenced by the audience’s audible responses which alternated from laughter to suspense.
One thing critics will be arguing over is whether the laughs intended by the filmmakers, or are they instead the result of ludicrous plot and dialogue? I think the former; from the carefully plotted and inventive camera work to the excellent performances delivered by fine actors, this is a production that honors details; while the plot might not hold up to scrutiny by a logician, its orchestration is expertly rendered.