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February 2, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #109 - Turbulence

If there was an Over-Actors Hall of Fame, I'm pretty certain it would be ruled by the man who headlined the last two Midnight Movies of the Week: the cultural treasure known simply as "The Shat".  But I'm also pretty sure that, somewhere in that hammy hall, you'd find an image or video clip or holographic rendering (I think holographic rendering would definitely be the coolest option, but science has to make it happen first!) of Ray Liotta as he appears in Turbulence.
The film comes straight from the "I was 16 when this movie came out and thought it looked soooooooooooo good because that guy was in Goodfellas and that gal that married Jim Carrey is really cute" section of the mental video store curated by The Mike, which actually means that the film pretty much sucks.  But there's still something kind of amazing about it when I look at it today....even though I know it sucks.
Liotta stars as Ryan Weaver, incarcerated for raping and killing a bunch of women after a corrupt cop (played by noted gruff dude Hector Elizondo) plants evidence in his possession.  He, of course, needs to be flown across the country, which means he's put on a plane with two guards, who are accompanying another prisoner transport (Brendan Gleeson sporting a horrible accent that I think is supposed to be Texan).  You would think 4 cops could take care of two shackled killers on a plane...but you'd be wrong.  Gleeson's Stubbs gets violent in the restroom, setting a killing spree in motion that momentarily ends with Weaver shooting him dead.
Through this point in the film, Liotta's Weaver is a relatively charming fella - but it's clear that he's a little off.  He asks personal questions, talks awkwardly about the in flight movie, It's a Wonderful Life (like many action movies of the late '80s-mid '90s, the movie just happens to be set around Christmas), and pretends to be an all-around charmer.  The object of his mid-air affection is a flight attendant played by Lauren Holly, despite the fact she seems to have never eaten a sandwich in her life and has the bone structure of something Harryhausen did for Jason and the Argonauts.  (And yet, when I was 16, I thought that was "cute" - foolish mortal Mike.)
Anyone who saw the "More Human Than Human" flavored trailer for the film when it was approaching theaters (check it out below if you haven't) can pretty much tell how the final act plays out.  Weaver is NOT, surprisingly, a nice guy, and suddenly everyone on the plane is pretty much dead and all that's left is the battle of wits between killer and stewardess.  It's not much of a battle - the final act is surprisingly devoid of action once the one-on-one matchup begins - which, along with the awful acting (Holly's chances to be a leading lady in Hollywood ended almost as soon as the film premiered), is part of the reason Turbulence crashed and burned at the box office in early January of 1997. 
Everything else aside, Turbulence is watchable - and still endearing in that "I was 16 and I know I should have known better but it was so fun" way - because of Liotta's psychopathic performance.  His one-liners range from overbearing - like when he peeks through an axe hole like Jack Torrance and growls "say your prayers!" - to dry and cynical - like when he laments his battle with the flight attendant by moaning "I'm never flying this airline again!" at himself.  And there's even his manic rendition of It's a Wonderful Life's Buffalo Gals, which precedes his attempts to get up close and personal with Holly by asking her questions about her favorite movie (Gone With the Wind) and her favorite book (also Gone With the Wind) and when she first had sex. 
 The character is all over the psychopathic map - not schizophrenic, but incredibly unbalanced - and Liotta seems to lap up every chance he has to turn the character in a different direction.  (Also, I can't help thinking that Liotta's huge grin and his haircut and even his rough face would have made a great Joker for a Batman film back in the day.  But hey, that's just me.)
Turbulence is a far cry from being as awesome as other "plane under siege" movies that opened around it:  Executive Decision came out about 8 months earlier, Con Air happened 6 months later.  Heck, the film might even be the antithesis of another MMOTW pick, Wes Craven's Red Eye - which empowers a good actress to act against a more controlled psycho killer.  But, like Weaver tells his captive after admitting that he hates Gone With the Wind, it's all subjective.  Turbulence is a poorly made film that lacks action and features a dull female lead - but it's still got a special place in my heart thanks to Liotta's wicked turn.  He makes an otherwise awful movie a better kind of awful...and tonight I feel like that's a good thing. 

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