Always bet on black, 3.5 readers.
I caught this blast from the past last night after not seeing it since I was a kid and it is amazing the things you notice as an adult.
First, it features a young Elizabeth Hurley as a flight attendant and she’s so young that I didn’t even recognize it was her until just now when I looked the film up on IMDB. Ahh, Liz. You were the subject of so many of my 1990’s boner fantasies. I fapped to you before anyone knew what fapping was.
Sorry for perving out there. Moving on, it also stars a young Tom Sizemore, looking physically fit and strong, long before he succumbed to Hollywood excess. Eh, then again excess or not we all get old I suppose.
Except Wesley Snipes seems like he never ages so he must be drinking some special health juice or something. Back in the 1990s, Wesley Snipes was a legit action movie star, complete with the karate moves, the one liners uttered upon defeating a villain, the works.
Here, Snipes plays John Cutter, an airline security expert hired to head up security operations for a major airline. He suffers from a tragedy, namely he lost his wife when he confronted a robber and has always regretted trying to be the hero. Thus, in security classes he teaches to airline staff, he advises everyone to cave in to any and all hijacker demands.
Ironically, this movie gives us a view into the pre-9/11 world of airline hijacking. It’s funny, every once in awhile, a young person in the extended BQB family will ask me why didn’t the people on the planes that were used in the 9/11 attacks just kick the asses of the bad guys?
Well, because pre-9/11, airplanes were hijacked all the time and it was standard procedure that everyone was expected to just shut up and do whatever the bad guys wanted and usually the hijacker either was trying to make a political statement or he was trying to get the plane to fly somewhere he otherwise could not have gotten to. Often, compliance with hijacker demands led to a safe resolution (though not always.)
I’m serious, kids. This shit was on TV all the time in the 1980s and 1990s. Hearing a TV anchorman say “A plane got hijacked today” was like “The sky was blue today.” In retrospect, the government should have done more to stop hijackings, but the old thought process was that it was unlikely that hijackers would crash the plane because then they’d die to and unfortunately it took a new kind of hijacker who was willing to die to convince the powers that be to get off their asses and provide safe, secure airline travel.
In addition to increased security measures, the passenger mindset has also changed. Today, I think passengers are so scared of another 9/11 that if a dude were to pull a gun on a plane, they’d jump him and kick his ass, fears of getting shot be damned. I could be wrong on that. Hopefully, there won’t ever be a case where found out.
Getting back to the story, Cutter has to rethink his compliance strategy when Charles Rayne (played by the similarly named Bruce Payne), a British terrorist being transported by the FBI on the same plane as Cutter, escapes custody and takes control of the aircraft.
There are some awesome fight scenes though once the plane lands, it’s mostly Snipes and Payne running around a Southern hick town fairground trying to kick each other’s ass while a stereotypically incompetent Southern sheriff botches the entire situation.
There are some un-PC things that happen in the movie though I’ll let you decide if they are or are not OK given the context. First, that iconic line, “Always bet on black.” That’s Snipes’ career building catchphrase, perhaps the line he’ll be remembered most for.
Today, it seems silly for a character to even mention his race. “Bet on me” would be the proper response to a villain, yet 1990s action flicks really depended on witty one-liners being said by the hero to the bad guy who is usually smug and didn’t see his comeuppance coming.
Second, Snipes’ love interest, a flight attendant (Alex Datcher) who initially can’t stand him, seeks revenge by seating an annoyingly chatty old lady next to Snipes. The old woman talks and talks and talks, much to Snipes’ chagrin and finally when she mentions “I love your show” we learn (millenials won’t get it) that the old woman believes Cutter is Arsenio Hall.
That joke continues throughout the movie even to the end, when Cutter saves the day and the old woman does the “Woo woo woo” dog barking sound/hand gesture that Arsenio’s audience was known for.
Is the joke politically incorrect? Yes. Does it also mock passive racism, thus showing that sometimes white people who truly believe they are the least racist people ever might accidentally let an unconscious racial offense slip through? Yes. The woman is a sweet old lady but obviously, thinks all black people are interchangeable and so any black man she meets must be the only black man she knows, and the only one she knows is on TV.
Utlimately, the joke is funny and for people my age who remember Arsenio, it lands. Cutter suffers the offense with dignity and it’s a teachable moment that probably wouldn’t be allowed today.
Finally, plot holes abound, though they don’t necessarily ruin the film. For example, Rayne is such a dangerous criminal, a mastermind who has escaped before and they put him on a plane with one inept FBI agent watching him? Give me a break. They’d put him in a Hannibal Lecter suit and wheel him around tied whilst strapped to a hand truck.
Also, it’s an early example of bad product placement in movies. Literally, every five minutes, someone is drinking a Pepsi.