97 Minutes (2023) – Film Review
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, MyAnna Buring
By Roger Crow
A hijacked 767 hurtles towards disaster, its fuel reserves dwindling rapidly. NSA Director Hawkins (Alec Baldwin) battles strong opposition from NSA Deputy Toyin (Jo Martin), but makes the cold-blooded decision to have the plane shot down, aiming to avert even more deaths on the ground.
Alex (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a possible undercover agent, is on board, and given that title, there’s no prizes for guessing how long he has to save the passengers.
Thankfully he’s assisted by a nurse (the ever reliable MyAnna Buring), who helps patch up the wounded while offering much-needed glamour and grit amid the testosterone-laden atrocities.
The latest (mostly) by-the-numbers ‘hijacked airline thriller’ wastes little time in setting up its all-too familiar premise. And yet, despite the graphic executions in the first few minutes, and Baldwin doing his typically brilliant ‘VIP barking orders’ routine, it’s hard not to be engaged as the generic ‘lone hero in peril’ routine plays out. Kudos to Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who was barely recognisable as the key protagonist; going in cold, I had no idea it was him until stopping for a break.
“Ramps up the adrenaline”
Then again, for me JRM will always be the rake-thin Steerpike from BBCs version of Gormenghast, or the generic sidekick from Mission: Impossible III. He gives a rock-solid turn as the kick-ass hero torn between duty and personal risk. In fact, it may be his best performance.
Skilful direction too by Timo Vuorensola (who does a better job here than the woeful Jeepers Creepers Reborn). He ramps up the adrenaline-fuelled atmosphere, while proving there’s more to him than just those comic book ‘space Nazi’ Iron Sky movies.
The visual effects aren’t bad either, though, like overblown Amazon spy saga Citadel, there are a few CG scenes too many.
Admittedly there are times when it feels like the weirdest mash-up of Paul Greengrass’s brilliant 9/11 thriller United 93 and Airplane! Yes, I know that even the thought of one trivialises the other, but the “We’re taking over the plane!” whispers from seat to seat almost border on parody.
Cleverly there are so many twists and turns here that like a plane over the Bermuda Triangle, just when you think you know where this is going, it doesn’t. Heroes might be villains, and vice versa.
I’ve seen hundreds of this style of thriller over the years, and while not as woeful as Turbulence; as so-so as Passenger 57, or as expensive as Executive Decision and Die Hard 2, it’s actually a surprisingly good offering which proves not all heroes are black and white, but shades of grey. However, the turns in the third act will leave some with whiplash as one character oscillates between good and evil, and the obligatory kid’s reaction to one (inevitable) loss is yawnsomely predictable. Less really is more kid. Thankfully we don’t have to endure the usual ‘traveller in need of meds’ routine, even though it’s alluded to
As a side note, there was a time when the good old airline thriller would feature a default party of nuns. Now it’s usually a spiritual guy to counterbalance the sense of xenophobia towards the bad guys’ country folk. The ratio is around four bad guys to one holy man, because some well-chosen words from an Eastern Ben Kenobi seems to balance things out and make up for the murderous antics of the antagonists. Hollywood screenwriters take note.
Like Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop, or Gerard Butler’s recent release Plane, this is not the throwaway thriller you might expect at first sight. There’s actual meat on the bones of the screenplay, and it’s a much more memorable offering for it. And like Non Stop, or Wes Craven’s ‘heroine-in-peril’ plane thriller Red Eye, the best way to watch it is late at night when you’re a bit tired and more likely to embrace the drama.
You’ll never see this as an in-flight movie, thankfully, and neither will it win any Baftas or glowing broadsheet reviews. However, it’s an entertaining diversion, and on the strength of this, Jonathan Rhys Meyers could easily become a new action star, and nobody is more surprised than me.