Lock down at 30,000 feet.
Fred Olen Ray has been a busy chap. Under various names (Bill Carson, Nicholas Medina, and Sherman Scott, to list a few) over the past 30 years, he's directed dozens of immortal works such as Honey Britches (1971), Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988), Dinosaur Girls (1993), and Bikini Hoe-Down (1997). In 2000, he embarked on an ambitious airplane trilogy, quickly delivering Submerged starring the renowned Coolio and then following that up with Mach 2. Now comes the topper—Air Rage—starring another thespian superstar—Ice T—and with Fred Olen Ray this time directing under the pseudonym Ed Raymond.
Words elude me at this point as I search for the phrases that will do this film justice. In the meantime, let me simply say that Paramount has come to the aid of all of us who were turned back at the box office during Air Rage's extensive theatrical run, by releasing the film on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Colonel John Sykes, a dishonoured marine who has managed to escape incarceration in a military prison, boards an airplane in Washington bound for Los Angeles. Aboard is General Prescott, who was the presiding judge at Sykes's court martial.
Sykes and several confederates also on the flight seize control of the plane and threaten to blow it up if their demands for money are not met. A special U.S. Army assault force led by Captain Matthew Marshall attempts a daring mid-air transfer onto the hijacked plane. The transfer is a success but the subsequent efforts to neutralize Sykes and his followers fail. Marshall is severely injured, but with the aid of a flight attendant who has managed to evade capture, he mounts a last-ditch attempt to retake the airplane.
I'm not going to waste too much of your time or much more of mine on this film. Air Rage is a bad film not worthy of your valuable time or money. The story is a rehash of every airplane-hijacking-type film ever made—poorly written, directed by the numbers, and abominably acted.
I've not had the opportunity to see other films with Ice T at work, but if this (he plays Captain Marshall) is indicative of his acting ability, I'll know which films to avoid in the future. It's hard to think of a performance by an actor billed as the star of the picture that is any worse than the muttered, uncharismatic, disinterested effort delivered by Ice T in this film. The rest of the cast ranges from adequate at best (Cyril O'Reilly as Sykes) to embarrassingly incompetent (almost everyone else including Alex Cord as Prescott).
I could go on to talk about the holes in the script, the absurdities of the various action sequences on the plane, the boring camera work, but I'd rather turn my attention to Paramount under whose imprint this DVD appears, even though the production was apparently an independent one by something called Phoenician Entertainment. Why Paramount has wasted DVD pressing resources on this title is really beyond me. Not only that, as DVD followers know, the majority of the time we find ourselves muttering over Paramount's lack of supplementary material on its discs. Yet this piece of dreck rates an audio commentary and a trailer gallery (well, two extra trailers for other Fred Olen Ray extravaganzas in addition to the original theatrical trailer). Sometimes, there's no sense to this business at all.
For the record, the transfer (1.85:1 anamorphic) is quite a competent job, well in line with most Paramount efforts—clear, detailed, colours well-rendered, edge enhancement virtually nil—and the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has nice presence and delivers the explosions effectively. The audio commentary is sort of a jokey affair as Raymond and O'Reilly trade reminiscences and speculations about what went on during the 15-day shoot. Sample: in talking about the courtroom sequences, rather than give us facts about the set's origin, O'Reilly simply speculates that it may have been used for an episode of Matlock or something. That's what we like to hear—information we can take to the bank!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I think I've already fired off enough rounds to make further comment in this section redundant.
Here's a grand opportunity to save time and money. Bad story, bad acting—just a bad movie overall. Too bad Paramount's DVD doesn't lower itself to match the movie's level. As it is, the transfer allows you to still see and hear the actors.
Guilty, guilty, guilty. And Paramount should be ashamed of itself for wasting DVD resources by including Air Rage on its release schedule.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Ed Raymond and Actor Cyril O'Reilly
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