Director: Robert Butler

Director: Danny Cannon

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Ray Liotta plays Ryan Weaver, an alleged serial killer according to a certain creepy police detective (Hector Elizondo) obsessed with the case. He has most definitely trumped up some phony evidence to prove Weaver charms his way into young women's lives then kills them.

TurbulenceAs the tale opens, he's living under an assumed identity & has a lovely young girlfriend who loves & trusts him. But if he was planning to kill her, he never gets the chance, as the cops are on to him, & he's all too soon on a plane in handcuffs, extradited to Los Angeles.

For half the film a door is left open for the possibility that his murderous criminality has been entirely fabricated by a crazy cop who has been tracking him for at least two years.

He's one of two criminals extradited, the other a bank robber (Brendan Gleeson) who looks a hell of a lot more dangerous than Weaver.

One of the stewardesses (Lauren Holly) has already proven susceptible to Weaver's charms, convinced he can't be a serial killer. And yes, for Lauren Holly's character, "stewardess" is the only proper label. Weaver's flirtatious cuteness is certainly pathological. It doesn't mean he wasn't framed by a loony cop.

The story is transparent from word go. As viewers we're just waiting for whatever mucks up the transport of the two prisoners. And sure enough, the bankrobber truly is a bad, bad man who by a somewhat clever means sets off an action sequence of carnage, death, & loss of cabin pressure when a bullet takes out a window.

[SPOILER ALERT!]It's now time for the film to stop pretending Weaver could be innocent, though anyone who saw the trailer already knows that particular "surprise."

After a few moments when it seems like "innocent" Weaver may prove to be the hero of the piece, his true colors surface. And after both guards, & both the pilot & co-pilot are all all good & dead, we end up with a variant an Airport (1970) with the stewardess having to land the plane, with the additional burden of a psycho killer doing everything to stop the plane from landing.

The cast having been considerably reduced in numbers until it's down to Weaver vs Teri the stewardess. Basically the set-up was there weren't many people on the plane to start with, this being days when night flights took off as scheduled even if there was only a handful of passengers.

TurbulenceThe few that are on board, once the prisoners are done with their killings, are all locked in the back room of the plane, not to be seen again until the plane lands.

We never even glimpse what they go through while the plane goes through sundry impossible moves including a barrel-role. The inept screenwriter really just didn't have a clue what to do with the extra cast members so just pretends they're not there.

None of what proceeds is believable & the story's frequently ridiculous. For instance, while crawling around in the bowels of the plane mucking up the electronics, Weaver finds a handy-dandy hatchet that looks like it was made by some nerd-blacksmith at a Conan the Barbarian sci-fi convention. It's apparently standard equipment in the bowels of airplanes! [END SPOILER ALERT]

There's also an FX sequence with the airplane flying upside down in the Perfect Storm. Then we're asked to believe a 747 could crash right through the top floor of a parking garage with minimal damage & keep on flying with a Ford Explorer stuck on the landing gear. Talk about laugh a minute! Only I'm guessing it was supposed to be suspenseful.

To pad it out between action moments, there's a mite too much ultra dull "meaningful" conversation. And as to continuity & logic, there just isn't any. Fortunately it always gets back to bad-movie mayhem. Laughable though it all is, the film is carried surprisingly well just by Liotta's unrestrained performance as a complete loon, very close to his comedy-psycho performance in Something Wild (1986).

Watch it as though it's a spoof of Airport & you might decide the inanity is intentional. Nothing original happens, not even once, but if you love an antic Ray Liotta, you've got him in spades. If you also get a kick out of Lauren Holly as damsel in distress, well, god help you.

Phoenix Oh boy, a nihilistic gambler epic, plus Ray Liotta redeeming himself in my eyes, so that I can justify continuing on & on as a huge fan, despite occasional roles in rubbish like Turbulence.

In another one-word-title item dominated by Liotta, Phoenix (1998), American crime film goes yakuza-eiga, possessing some of the same gambler-code ethos of Japanese gangster movies, akin to the underappreciated James Caan vehicle The Gambler (1974).

Liotta plays a gambling cop, who learned his out of kilter code of ethics from his daddy, likewise a gambler. Ray's a great character with this twisted moral code, honest to a fault when it comes to gambling debts, but for every other circumstance, not so much.

So Harry has some pretty severe debts to clear. Gambling is not merely an addiction for him, but a way of life, & in the context of this life, cheating at a game or welshing on bets is an unforgiveable breach of the gamblers' code. Armed robbery is by comparison a decent thing to do, if it's done for sake of the code.

Giovanni Ribisi plays Joey, a scared kid in prison, who a certain bookie wants killed. The bookie will forgive Harry's debts if he can arrange Joey's death. Instead, Harry would like to help keep the kid alive, & strikes up a bargain he thinks will do the trick. And he expects his bookie to be just as much a stickler for a debt.

Angelica Huston plays Leila the aging barmaid, for whom Harry is falling. She provides him his only quiet moments of peace. The casting is odd in that Angelica is certainly a bit old for Harry, but the relationship is completely understandable. They're two world-weary people who see beyond each other's failings, recognizing one another's decent cores.

Fred (Jerry Pevin), Harry's friend & fellow cop, is corrupt as all hell. He's being cuckholded by his wife, with another corrupt cop buddy, Mike (Anthony LaPaglia). Compared to his pals, Harry's definitely a good guy.

PhoenixHarry intends to rob loan shark Louie (Giancarlo Esposito, an elegant character actor too often typecast as a seedy villain). Harry convinces himself nothing can go wrong. Assisted by his dirty-cop buddies Fred, Mike & James (Daniel Baldwin), things most certainly do go wrong.

They make the raid in animal masks, & storm Louie's office in the back of a strip club. Mike is unstable & goes off the deep end & kills two gangsters, then kills Louie before he can open the safe. Harry's not happy how it went down, but he's pragmatic. They call up a commercial locksmith to open the safe.

[SPOILERS ALERT!] On their way to rendezvous in two cars, with intent to split the money at a safe destination, turns out Fred betrayed them all because Mike was schtupping his wife. Armed robbery, multiple murders, & nothing to show for it! And now there's a police lieutenant (Xander Berkeley) coming for the bad cops, & he's the worst cop yet, eager to kill them all to get the money they stole.

It truly goes all to hell with misunderstandings, betrayals, death, & injury turning everyone against everyone. The rate of gunplay & violence goes up, up, up.

Fred's wife Katie (Kari Wuhrer) is a real slut, & she's not to be trusted in any context, so the neo-noir has its requisit femme fatale jammed into the story a mite awkwardly.

Without a morally straight & level character anywhere in sight, it's hard to tell the arch villain is none of these bad cops, criminals, or femme fatale. Rather, the ultimate villain is lisping "Chicago" (Tom Noonan, one of our best most underestimated actors), Harry's bookie.

Chicago has gone ahead & had Joey killed in jail, even though Harry had thought there was an agreement between them saving the kid. Within the context of his personal quirky Code, Harry is seriously annoyed. He goes all Yakuza-vengence on Chicago's ass, which is actually pretty redeeming if any viewer was having trouble relating to this uber anti-hero. [END SPOILER ALERT]

Phoenix obviously ain't no serious drama. But as a fast-paced actioner, it's one hell of a good film.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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