Sunday, January 8, 2017

Turbulence (Formula Pictures, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Lifetime’s second movie showing last night was considerably better than their first: it was Turbulence, a.k.a. Flight 192, written and directed by Nadeem Soumah (and if his name is East Indian, as I suspect, he helps redeem Indian directors from the bad taste left in my mouth from the terrible work of Tarsem Singh on last Friday’s first episode of Emerald City!) and, despite some pretty preposterous plot twists, it was played for suspense rather than shock and worked better on all levels than Under the Bed. Sarah Plummer (Dina Meyer) is the head of a major department in the FBI’s Los Angeles office; her husband Ken (Nick Baillie, a considerably better-looking man than usually cast in the “dicks in peril” roles in Lifetime movies!) built a small IT startup into one of the world’s major computer companies; and when the story begins their 12-year-old son Jacob (Cole Carter) is about to play in the finals of his school’s baseball team’s annual competition. Only Sarah gets called to Washington, D.C. on the eve of the game because she has to take over the case of Senator Johnson (Brent A. McCoy), a sixty-something scapegrace legislator bearing a striking resemblance to the older Fred Astaire.

It seems that Johnson, whose wife has lost all interest in him and spends all her evenings getting drunk on the vintage wines she collects, went out to a party with a bunch of hot 20-somethings and got one of them to get into his red Corvette and let him drive her to a beach, where they frolicked in the sand but she drew back on actually putting out sexually for him. So in a bizarre combination of frustration and anger he strangled her and left her dead body on the beach. Only he was caught in the act by a nearby security camera which filmed the whole thing. The gimmick is the security camera footage is the only evidence against him — with it he’s bats-burgers but if he can get it to disappear … So he calls in a sinister organization of “fixers” designed to help the super-rich and super-powerful out of jams like this, and its two members (at least the two we see) are Michelle Taylor (Victoria Pratt), a blonde with a chillingly off-hand affect who chats up Sarah on Flight 192 of the fictitious “AirPacific” airline, and Cameron (Justin Johnson, easily the hottest guy in the movie even though Baillie is better looking than the normal casting for a Lifetime husband). Michelle tells Sarah — and shows surveillance footage of her home to prove it — that Cameron is holding Sarah’s husband and son hostage and will kill them unless Sarah goes into the FBI database and erases every copy of the damning surveillance video. There are several problems with that — including the fact that the FBI would back up something like that up the ying-yang and wouldn’t give one agent, no matter how high up in the hierarchy, access to all the extant copies; also the FBI originally got the video from the Los Angeles Police Department, and one would think the LAPD would retain its own copy, especially since despite the FBI’s involvement it’s still a murder committed within Los Angeles’s jurisdiction.

Nonetheless, despite the far-fetched aspects of some of Soumah’s plot, he directs the film effectively and gets some great suspense effects — he even manages the rare feat of making work on a computer dramatically interesting — and his story tests Sarah’s resourcefulness as she hacks into the FBI’s database to send a warning that her family is in jeopardy and some action is needed. The warning is received by Sarah’s second-in-command, Agent Peterson (Kevin Interdonato), who is so nerdy and affect-less I expected it to turn out that he was in league with the crooks and had supplied them with all the information they needed to scope out Sarah’s family and take action against them. Instead Peterson is one of the good guys and eventually catches on. There are some great suspense scenes, including a neat reversal in which Michelle grabs Sarah’s FBI badge and briefly manages to convince the personnel on the plane, including the pilot and the air marshal, that she is the FBI agent and Sarah is a looney-tunes madwoman disrupting the flight out of her own paranoia, as well as a climax in which Jacob has taken his cell phone with him when Cameron moved him and Ken to a secondary location and he manages to place a 911 call and leave the line open without Cameron watching. With the phone on, the FBI can trace its location and therefore rescue the Plummers — but the phone is running out of battery power and the suspense is will the phone stay on long enough for the FBI to trace it. The ending is a bit silly — with the warehouse where he’s holding Ken and Jacob Plummer surrounded by FBI agents and police SWAT teams, and Cameron already upset because he can’t reach Senator Johnson to receive new instructions, Cameron nonetheless holds his gun on Sarah, who holds her gun on him, and he resists her attempts to get him to drop the gun. Any real crook in a situation like this would eagerly agree to rat out his higher-up for more lenient treatment, but that doesn’t seem to occur to Cameron — or to Soumah. Nonetheless, Turbulence is a quite good thriller, not especially interesting in terms of social comment but fun as sheer entertainment and well acted by heroes and villains alike (except for Interdonato, whose nerdiness and flat affect briefly fooled me into thinking he was in league with the baddies!).