$17.99 DVD, $19.99 Blu-ray;
Stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Alec Baldwin, MyAnna Buring, Jo Martin, Michael Sirow, Pavan Grover, Anjul Nigam, Jake Hayes, Slavko Slobin, Kasia Koleczek.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Alec Baldwin head an otherwise no-star cast in a direct-to-video thriller being hyped as a “ticking clock scenario” even though the film’s running time is four minutes shy of the title. (97 Minutes refers to the amount of time hijacked flight 420 from Heathrow to JFK International has before running out of fuel.) A computer-generated aerial view of the Atlantic Ocean is the first thing we see before swooping down on a passenger airliner and gradually slinking across the fuselage playing Peeping Tom through the cabin windows. This all technique, no nuance approach has the same effect as chucking a monkey wrench in a 767 engine. A simple hijacking would be out of fashion by today’s wantonly adrenalized standards. Before the title hits the screen a flight attendant, air marshal, and the pilot are all dispatched with single, fatal, digital bullets. Banking on audiences’ built-in familiarity with the genre, writer/producer/co-star Pavan Grover and director Timo Vuorensola forgo character formalities, cook up a clever third act twist, and proceed to work backward with no cliche left deterred.
The tropes just keep on ticking. The five hijackers are incendiary, standing order Russkies, none of whom are particularly distinguishable save the mercenary troupe’s one female planenapper. Alex: Code Name Steak-Knife (Meyers) is the de rigueur inside man, a deep cover government operative free to move about the cabin. First things first: disengage the failsafe switch so neither terrorist pilot nor Director Hawkins’ (Baldwin) underlings at National Security Headquarters can commandeer the plane. Pilot Gill’s (Danny Bohnen) young but wise beyond his years son Sam is quick to catch on to the skyjacker’s game. Aware of the insurgent eavesdropping around the corner, Sam asks Interpol agent Alex how long he’s been a terrorist. He should have questioned his reasoning behind using the cabin as a shooting gallery. A stray bullet that pierces the hull causes a dip in cabin pressure. Is there a doctor on the flight manifest? Before departing to that big terminal in the sky, Gill must be medically revived just long enough to bring Alex up to speed on how to remedy a loss of cabin pressure. Sam blames Alex for killing his father in a brief yet most melodramatic fashion. It also helps to have a doc on board when wound up Alex resorts to that old stress-relieving standby, punching out a lavatory mirror. Unnecessary backstory abounds while Dr. Kim (MyAnna Buring) nurses Alex’s hand. In the big, histrionical poker game that is life, Alex sees Dr. Kim’s accidental murder of a patient and raises her one dead 7-year-old son.
A little more than three months after the accidental shooting of Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust, Baldwin was in Aton, Hampshire beginning work on 97 Minutes. For his part, Baldwin barks orders through folded arms. One of the few character traits assigned to the terminally tuned-out Hawkins is a forced, continuous referral to aircraft as “birds.” The filming lasted 18 days, on which Baldwin probably spent four or five. His ability to deliver made-for-TV dialogue — “Some innocent people are going to die so that more innocent people will live” — while at the same time keeping his eyes from rolling back in his head is a testament to the actor’s inability to break character. Why did Baldwin opt for a gun crazy actioner over a comedy or romance for his first feature following the Rust tragedy? (At one point Alex details how any schmo with a 3D printer could construct a homemade gun with a two-bullet capacity.) Connected to the project for 18 months, Baldwin’s character was a custom build. There is a surprise twist about two-thirds of the way through that you won’t see coming, but who cares? Good films shock and amaze at every turn, not simply build to one twist before calling it a day. In that sense, 97 Minutes feels like three hours.