The list of anti-holiday Christmas movies grows each year.
Film buffs add a little “Die Hard” and “Gremlins” to their annual rotation of “A Christmas Carol” and “Elf.”
Why watch George Bailey’s redemption for the 86th time when you can experience an all-American Dad, with an impenetrable Austrian accent, beat up a room full of Santas to snag a Turbo Man toy for his son?
Why sit through yet another bout of Ralphie and his BB Gun when, instead, one can experience the chilling brilliance of “Black Christmas,” from Bob Clark, who directed that and “A Christmas Story”!
Add the forgotten, trashy and gleefully entertaining “Turbulence” to the stack of fiendish yuletide cinematic stocking stuffers. Here is an ideal holiday movie for anyone who hates Christmas or, on a more relatable level, wants to watch something irreverent and nasty during this twinkly, holly-jolly season.
Lauren Holly (fresh off of “Dumb and Dumber,” “Beautiful Girls” and TV’s “Picket Fences”) stars as Teri, a flight attendant stuck working a thankless shift on Christmas Eve. A recent breakup and no future prospects are the least of Teri’s concerns.
She finds herself serving a half-full plane in which the star passenger is Ryan Weaver (Ray Liotta), known in the press as The Lonely Hearts Killer. This handsome devil with a Ted Bundy rep is escorted in shackles to a cabin in which he’s surrounded by cops. His initial sweetness with Teri suggests he could, after all, be an innocent man.
This is an expensive B-movie, devoid of smarts, that makes it up in entertainment value. Directed by television veteran Robert Butler (whose prior film credit was helming the 1985 rafting/teen sex comedy, “Up the Creek”), it fluctuates from aiming to take itself seriously to just letting the craziness dangle like Mistletoe.
“Turbulence” begins as an earnest, unintentionally hilarious police procedural, until it becomes a ’90s take on an Irwin Allen in-flight disaster movie.
How did Roland Emmerich not make this?
Finally, the film gets nasty and suspenseful until it transforms into a parody of itself (for proof, note how a truck is inventively used during an in-air collision).
FAST FACT: Legendary film critic Roger Ebert didn’t mince words with his “Turbulence” review – “It looks like it cost a lot of money, but none of that money went into quality. It’s schlock, hurled at the screen in expensive gobs.”
Holly’s performance ranges from indifferent, annoyed and finally into all-out panic. Teri’s character trajectory isn’t how she’ll ever be able to trust a man again but whether the actress playing her will finally connect with the material and give a good performance (Holly does, though belatedly).
Liotta’s performance is like the movie itself – all over the place but enjoyably batty. He plays it straight for a while (the mystery of his character’s innocence was clearly a priority at the screenplay stage that they abandoned once the trailer hit).
Once Liotta’s character is fully unhinged, the actor bounces between what-do-I-care hamming it up and a genuine investment of prior “Something Wild” intensity.
Liotta and Holly share a great scene where he tries to control her with a stream of personal questions, a la Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but most of their work here consists of violent brawls.
Hector Elizondo is playing the film’s Dr. Loomis stand-in while “Total Recall” alum Rachel Ticotin has the meek injection of intended feminism when she says, “No, she’s not a stewardess…she’s a flight attendant.”
The late Ben Cross, sporting a delicious accent (note the way he annunciates “stroke”) is a dashing plot device in search of an actual character.
“Turbulence” is set on an aircraft that is amusingly and implausibly over-decorated with Christmas paraphernalia. Colorful lights, holly (the decorative plant, not Lauren) and tinsel dangle everywhere.
Let’s add up the cheap thrills (cheap for us, the moviegoers, but not for the filmmakers): we get the plane going upside in a “Class 6” thunderstorm and a lavish bit where the plane’s exposed wheel rips the roof off a karaoke bar in a high-rise building.
That pre-9/11 gag wouldn’t, um, fly today.
Later on, Liotta gets knocked out by an out of control beverage cart like it was a Donkey Kong barrel (which plays much funnier than it reads). I won’t give it away, but Liotta’s throwaway line about whether he’ll ever fly this airline again is hilarious.
The in-flight-movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which gives us a villain singing “Buffalo Girls” while he stalks a victim, an inspired, truly demented choice. As commercial travel-set thrillers go, this has the disreputable kick that the far classier “Executive Decision” couldn’t entirely provide the year before.
“Turbulence” opened the same January weekend as “The Relic,” meaning filmgoers had to choose between two top-notch guilty pleasures on the same day.
The end result is less “Airport ‘97” than the “Airplane III: The Threequel” that we’ve all been dreaming about.