I kinda liked TURBULENCE, but TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL is definitely the gem of the trilogy. That’s not to say that it’s well made exactly, but it’s just such an exuberant mix of different types of ridiculous bullshit that you gotta respect it. That starts (but does not end) with the setup: controversial rock star Slade Craven (who seems to be a mix of King Diamond, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, but doing more of an industrial rock type of thing) has invited a small group of fans to see his farewell concert, which will take place on a “specially designed, absolutely radical” airplane while it’s in flight.
Since this was released in 2001 it sort of goes without saying that it’s one of those “live internet broadcast” movies, a format that is almost always terrible, but generally provides at least a few chuckles. I get a kick out of how they always have a big board that tells them how many people are watching and somehow it has an immediate, instantaneous relation to what’s happening live. Like, if something exciting happens (usually somebody getting killed), suddenly more viewers are watching. (Yes, they have a reader board on the plane to update them on how many.)
Half of the fun is the silliness of the content, the other half is trying to guess where it will go with the thriller aspects that make it a TURBULENCE movie. In the opening scene there are religious right protesters at the airport – will they be the villains? But on the ground there’s a whole plot about an FBI agent who has been on the trail of a hacker for three years – maybe this hacker is going to terrorize them from the ground? But also you see that Rutger Hauer is the co-pilot. You don’t cast Rutger Hauer as the co-pilot unless he’s a secret terrorist, right? Except also he mentions something about ‘Nam. Maybe he’s the hero who saves the day! That would be cool. Also, it takes a while for anything thriller-y to happen… what if this really is just about the challenges of having a concert on a plane, finally giving the turbulence a central role?
Of course I’m going to tell you what happens, so SPOILER alert. But I was impressed by how long it kept me guessing about what was up and who was in on it, and by the specific choices it made about which left turns to take. It’s a fun, if stupid, ride.
Your enjoyment of the movie will depend somewhat on whether you find caricatures of metal/punk/goth musicians and fans funny or grating. There’s basically three types of them in movies:
and this fits into
3) ones that seem like maybe they’re trying to be fairly accurate but come across as humorously off-base.
To be fair, there’s gotta be a certain amount of satire intended in Slade Craven (John Mann, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, PATHFINDER, THE TALL MAN) and his band, with their corny obsessions with death and Satanism. But there’s a full two song performance and it seems like they were trying to make a passable version of “cool” industrial death rock or whatever this is that he’s doing. Also, many of the extras playing fans seem like they might have been chosen for really dressing that way, along with a couple featured ones who seem like 28 year olds playing 17 year olds going all Beatlemania for Slade. An actual line of dialogue is, “Oh my god, did you see that? He is SUCH a babe!” But even the less silly ones seem so phony with their constant “Craven! Craven!” chants.
For some reason all of the fans are total dicks to the security people and the flight crew, acting like they’re all cops or something. I think in real life they would just be so excited to be doing this and they would be nice to everybody. For the record.
The band performs in what is a small room for a show but a large one for being on an airplane. The stage is very elaborate and includes a mock electric chair. But it’s funny to see this band fully rocking out right in front of a group of very lucky, totally worshipful fans… who mostly remain seated?
I didn’t know who was in the cast, and it was the FBI part of the plot that caught me off guard. Kate Hayden (Gabrielle Anwar, IF LOOKS COULD KILL) is the agent who disobeys orders to go after this hacker, and the orders come from Joe Mantegna. I like to think he had David Mamet rewrite his dialogue for him. She’s able to tap the hacker’s phone just by typing into a computer, which I hope is not how it really works (especially since this was before the Patriot Act). Anyway she I guess intercepts his pizza order (since no other pizza shows up) as an excuse to knock on his door. “You’re the new delivery girl?” he says to this woman wearing her Agent Scully style pantsuit and collar.
Anyway, this is the hacker:
That’s right, it’s Craig Sheffer, returning star of part 2. I’d like to think he was the same character, who is sporting this ridiculous new color-coordinated look after having gone through some shit on that plane, but it’s a totally different guy named Nick Watts. So it’s more along the lines of Lee Van Cleef playing different characters in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY.
Nick happens to be a huge Slade Craven fan, but not the type who supports his work financially, so he’s broken into the Z Web TV mainframe to illegally watch all of their feeds. As Agent Hayden is trying to arrest him for it he notices what seems to be a murder on one of the security cameras. He’s able to convince her that it’s real and together they look at the different feeds and recordings, cross-reference FBI files, do vocal analysis, make phone calls and try to solve the mystery of what’s going on. This time (SPOILER) it’s Sheffer’s character who’s on the other end of the line helping a non-pilot land the plane. (He has that knowledge because “Some kids grew up playing Nintendo, for me it was a flight simulator.”)
So one weird thing about the movie is that Sheffer gets top billing, and his screen time is worthy of it, but his entire part takes place in one room away from where all the action is taking place. And almost all of it is sitting at the computer, except for one part where he’s dancing around singing into a pretend microphone.
One of the big left turns is when Slade produces a gun and kills the captain (Fred Keating, FINAL DESTINATION, AIR BUD 3). Much of his act involved fake killing (like putting a fan in the electric chair), but everybody immediately realizes this one is real and, to his credit, one fan (Zak Santiago, “Megastore DJ,” JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, DRIVEN TO KILL) tries to tackle him.
After previously having been depicted as a misogynistic asshole, the director at Z Web TV (which has a huge control room staffed only by him and one other person) has enough morals to cut the feed and contact the FBI (Mantegna), who happen to be in the same city and come right over. For a cheap DTV sequel this has a surprising amount of characters in different settings, because you also have some scenes at the FAA, led by Brad Loree, who played Michael Myers in the much more terrible live internet broadcast movie HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION.
The answer to the mystery of Rutger Hauer being in this movie is that yes, his character is part of the Satanic doomsday cult trying to fulfill a prophecy or some shit, and intends to purposely crash the plane. The nice touch with that is that he puts in a burned opera CD to listen to as they go down. So this is not all about evil heavy metal fans.
But the biggest swerve that takes this movie over the top into actually being good is when our earthbound heroes figure out that the Slade Craven who’s murdering people is an imposter, the real one is tied up in the back, and yes – without removing a single trinket from his leather outfit, smearing his ghoul makeup or even putting his long fright wig in a ponytail – my man turns into the John McClane figure, talking to them over the radio, hitting a guy over the head with a fire extinguisher, stealing a gun, and, I’ll be damned, landing the plane! For that part he decides to take off his inverted cross necklace and pray to God for a safe landing, but I won’t tell any of his fans.
This is a character who was previously such a huge fuckin douche. Looking so laughable, but acting so arrogant, remaining in that ridiculous stage persona, talking down to people, singing asinine lyrics. Look at these fucking guys!
But when he makes this flip to action hero it’s so exciting to see a guy like that in such an unexpected role. And it’s kind of funny that before a show he says to his band, “Let’s do the hustle” and then he later uses it as a “Let’s roll” type catch phrase. I don’t really understand why it’s a disco reference, though. It should be some satan thing, maybe.
By the way, if this had been slightly delayed for any reason we might never have seen it – it came out four months before 9-11 happened and made plane-terror movies unreleasable for a while. But it doesn’t seem to feel any shame in mentioning the Columbine school shooting (anti-Slade Craven protesters blame school shootings on his violent lyrics).
Anyway, if you want to see a movie about a hacker and a metal band stopping a hijacking by a satanic cult then I recommend TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL. If you don’t want to see a movie like that I really can’t help you.
P.S. Oh my god the subtitle “HEAVY METAL” describes both the material the plane is made of and the style of music performed within it