While the disaster-movie craze of the 1970s and its rebirth in the late 1990s are long behind us, you wouldn’t know it with writer/director Fred Olen Ray’s take, which may as well as have been titled “Turbulence 4.” (Yes, two sequels to “Turbulence” actually got made.)
Consider this: An airplane’s maiden flight controlled by new “CD70 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” technology — that’s a fancy way of saying “autopilot” — goes horribly wrong when its program gets glitchy and the steers Flight 405 into a massive electrical storm, and the military threatens to blow the craft and its handful of occupants (mostly rich-white-guy investors, so no big loss) to kingdom come, lest it harm thousands on people on the ground … unless Something Can Be Done.
Enter Casper Van Dien.
So you’ve got a computer brain that refuses to let humans alter its plan (“2001”), Van Dien boarding the endangered plane via a docking tube used for air-to-air refueling (“Executive Decision”), and he and his ex (Nicole Eggert, TV’s “Baywatch”) rekindling their flame by landing the plane to safety (“Zero Hour,” ergo, “Airplane!”), and the very concept which just screams of all four entries in Universal’s late, great “Airport” franchise. Hell, all we’re missing are those muthaeffin’ snakes!
We also get a character quipping, “Houston, we have a problem.” Moviemakers of all genres, please refrain from quoting this line unless you are remaking “Apollo 13.”
Van Dien, never a great actor, is oddly appealing in his action-hero role here; Eggert not only matches him, but exceeds him, in terms of performance. She takes the thing seriously. On the opposite end is Patrick Muldoon (making this a quasi-“Starship Troopers” reunion for he and Van Dien), chewing the fat with over-the-top glee as the sleazy exec behind the tech.
The most surprising thing about it is Olen Ray’s involvement. It’s a step up on every level from the B-movie vet’s work of late, shooting super-lame softcore comedies and the gay vampire series “The Lair,” as if he’s returning to his heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when his stuff was watchable. —Rod Lott