Awfully Good: Turbulence

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Liam Neeson’s flight in NON-STOP is a first class joyride compared to…

Turbulence (1997)

Director: Robert Butler
Stars: Ray Liotta, Lauren Holly, Brendan Gleeson

A stewardess—excuse me, flight attendant—has the worst flight ever when a serial killer takes over the plane.

It’s probably not a good sign when the thing I remember most about a movie is that the trailer featured a White Zombie song. But alas, that is the case with TURBULENCE, a B-grade “killer plane” thriller that had the misfortune of coming out a few months before the exponentially more fun and memorable CON AIR. It also doesn’t help that it sucks a whole bunch.

Ray Liotta’s Mile High Club Face #1

TURBULENCE does have one thing going for it, however—crazy Ray Liotta. Very few things are as enjoyable as the GOODFELLAS star unhinged and you get plenty of that here. The film attempts to play it up – “Is he actually psychotic or just wrongfully accused?”—but you already know the answer. You don’t hire someone with Ray Liotta’s crazy eyes to play a sane person. It’d be like if Jack Nicholson just finished his novel and had hot cocoa with his family at the end of THE SHINING. Liotta’s Ryan Weaver is like a low-rent, willfully stupid Hannibal Lecter. He tries to get in to the head of the one remaining flight attendant (played by DUMB AND DUMBER’s Lauren Holly, in a Razzie-worthy performance), but he’s obviously not that bright himself. He spends the majority of the movie chasing Holly around the aircraft, acting like a Looney Tune and randomly quoting IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. I say “majority” because there are definitely segments of the film where you have no idea what Liotta is up to. I guess he’s just hanging out reading the SkyMall catalog.

Ray Liotta’s Mile High Club Face #2

The film is definitely at its best when Liotta is at his worst, but those few shining moments are but a small percentage of an astoundingly amateur script. Even the basic set up makes no sense. The flight on which the titular bumpiness occurs is a 747 headed to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve… and there are only five people on the plane. (The film goes through the effort of setting them up too, only to never feature them again.) Could they not afford more extras? Or was there just no plausible way to make the asinine story work with a normal planeful of people? Luckily for us, this is just the start of the stupidity.

And that’s how Mad Eye Moody lost his eye: Ray Liotta’s Mile High Club Party

The cops are transferring two prisoners on the empty Christmas flight; Liotta and another killer played by Irish actor Brendan Gleeson sporting an awesome southern accent. Gleeson asks to go to the potty and then somehow uses the bathroom sink handle (?!) to stab the air marshal to death. He grabs a gun and a shootout ensues, blowing a giant hole in the side of the plane, which the brilliant stewardess instantly patches with a briefcase. Hearing the gunshots, the pilot naturally says, “I’m going to go check it out!” and immediately gets shot. When he doesn’t promptly return, the remaining co-pilot sets the plane on autopilot and then proceeds to stumble, fall backwards and break his neck on his own seat belt. (That is really how they write out the pilots. AMAZING.) During the shootout, pretty much everyone else is conveniently shot and killed (or trapped in a closet) besides Liotta and Holly. The flight attendant is busy tending to the wounded, so she gives Liotta—the alleged serial killer—the keys to the cockpit so he can check on the pilot. (Clearly, this was made before 9/11 taught us this was a bad idea.)

Lauren Holly is asked nicely to return for the DUMB AND DUMBER sequel.

So now Liotta has a gun and thus begins the game of Idiot Cat and Mouse between the two stars. Because he’s charming and handsome, Holly must assume that Liotta is one of those non-dangerous serial killers, because she continually engages with him and trusts him despite all logic and reason. They have heart to hearts about love and marriage, their favorite books and movies, childhood pets—all while Liotta is clearly just wondering where to dump her body at 20,000 feet. In one of the most mind-bogglingly dumb scenes of all time, Liotta is asking Holly to let him back in to the cockpit WHILE she’s on the phone with the FBI and the FAA, all of whom warn her that he is a crazed killer. But she still chooses to trust Liotta for no good reason. Eventually she learns her lesson though when he goes full-on bonkers and tries to rape and murder her, in addition to starting a bonfire on the plane and disabling the autopilot (which is conveniently located in a box clearly labeled “Autopilot”).

“I’m coming for you Mary Samsonite!”

This brings us to our next plot point: Not only is no one flying the plane, but the aircraft happens to be heading in to a “Level 6” storm. (Whatever that means.) So now the control tower only has 10 minutes to teach the flight attendant how to land a 747. Luckily, she’s pretty good at it and—just kidding, she flies the plane through the Crowne Plaza Hotel and a parking garage and misses her landing opportunity. At this point the FBI have to follow protocol and shoot down the rogue plane as a precaution. However, Lauren Holly has seen movies too and as soon as she spots the F-14 on her tail, she knows exactly what’s up. She makes an impassioned speech and the pilot immediately disobeys direct orders to kill her. She says “F*ck you, FBI! I’m landing this plane myself!” and does just that.

When you’re hot, you’re hot.

But, oh no, Ray Liotta is still around! And the cockpit door is made out of cardboard, so he’s able to break it down in a obvious reference to THE SHINING! This represents the eighth time that Holly has had an opportunity to kill the bad guy. Will she be able to pull the trigger and land the plane safely? Yes. Yes, she does. And at the airport it’s blatantly suggested that she’s somehow fallen in love with one of FAA pilots she met on the radio during the hijacking. It’s that bad a movie.

Ray Liotta is almost good enough to sell lines like “You’re gonna be the first cop to die with a plane up his ass!” Hear the rest here.

Random slappings, bad stuntwork and other unintentionally funny scenes.

Lauren Holly in an undershirt. Now you’re talkin’!

Have your vomit bag handy? Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Ray Liotta pops out from somewhere
  • Ray Liotta laughs like a madmen
  • Ray Liotta asks someone a personal question
  • Lauren Holly has a chance to kill the bad guy but doesn’t
  • There’s a reference to a real life celebrity or movie
  • You can spot an obvious stunt double

Double shot if:

  • Someone says the name of the movie

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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