1997, R, 100 min. Directed by Robert Butler. Starring Ray Liotta, Lauren Holly, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Cross, Rachel Ticotin, Catherine Hicks, Hector Elizondo.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 10, 1997

The Turbulence press notes mention that director Butler was the man behind such madcap Disney escapades as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Barefoot Executive, which strikes me as being right on target. You can almost see a young Kurt Russell essaying Liotta’s role here, all over-the-top tomfoolery and gory sight gags. Well, okay, maybe you can’t, but it was an interesting thought, you have to admit. As it is though, Turbulence does operate on the same “grab ’em by the throat and shake ’em ’til they’re dead” line of reasoning. It’s all thunderous sound cues and strobing lights, with precious little else to fill in the moments between gimbals-mounted stuntwork. Liotta plays Ray Weaver, a serial killer who, along with a coarse bank robber by the name of Stubbs (Gleeson), is being shuttled across the country aboard a Boeing 747 bound for LAX. It may be Christmas, but the flight still has only 11 passengers on board, which gives Weaver the opportunity to break free at 35,000 feet and run amok, killing not only his fellow prisoner but also most of the flight crew and both pilots of the plane, which just happens to be flying straight into a “level 6” storm. It’s up to flight attendant Teri Halloran (Holly) to get the flight safely back down and save the remaining passengers, although Weaver is furiously intent on crashing the jet into downtown Los Angeles. As thriller synopses go, that’s pretty good. I can imagine the pitch meeting was a genuinely exciting affair, although the end result is something less than spectacular. There’s a bizarre subplot which goes absolutely nowhere and involves Elizondo as the detective who had to plant evidence to catch Liotta’s lonely-hearts-type killer and then, of course, there’s Liotta’s annoying penchant for over-the-top psycho schtick, something he seems exquisitely incapable of reigning in. (Is it me or are his eyelashes getting thicker with every performance? At this rate it won’t be too long before some overzealous lepidopterist snares those suckers for display in the Museum of Natural History.) His Weaver is all breathy utterances and bizarre facial quirks; it’s almost as if he’d been taking lessons from Holly’s beau Jim Carrey. Admittedly, some of the model effects are nail-biters: Shots of the massive bird doing uncontrollable barrel rolls atop a seething cloudbank may keep some more timid fliers out of the skies for months, but without the emotional resonance of, say, Speed (which this film so obviously wants to be), its actually quite pedestrian in its madman-on-the-loose tack. If only Kurt Russell had been on board.

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Turbulence, Robert Butler, Ray Liotta, Lauren Holly, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Cross, Rachel Ticotin, Catherine Hicks, Hector Elizondo

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