So I don't know the provenance of this movie, but it's of a type with (and released by the same company as) those SyFy movies like Ice Spiders or Mega-Shark that have bargain casts and are fleshed out with cutout-bin CGI. I was trolling through Netflix streaming one night looking for something a little crappy when this struck my eye, attracting me with a picture of an airliner buzzing a major city and cinching the deal when I learned the villains are members of the Aryan brotherhood... because morally venal as they may be, Aryan brotherhood members often do have awesome tattoos and mustaches. Pretty sad state of affairs when one of the few places I can find "my type" is among extremist hate groups.
We also learn that the one star they could persuade to appear in this thing is Meredith Baxter. Okay, so there's this big plane, the Starquest, and the big thing about it is it can take off and land by itself. It's also two stories on the outside, but only one very small passenger cabin on the inside. So after some short press conference, the passengers get on, including some hard-charging federal agent named Gina, who... I'm not exactly sure what type she's supposed to be, perhaps from one of those cop shows, as well as a cousin to J. Lo's Out of Sight character, but she appears on the scene throwing some other security guy against the wall for some tiny perceived infraction, and is eyeing everyone as though they're potential threats. She seems like she's going to be a bummer but she soon turns out to be the only convincing and charming actor in the movie. Also on the plane is a guy who looks like wimpy Dick Cheney (not the real, bloodthirsty Dick Cheney) who is supposedly the undercover air marshall. Then a bunch of passengers get on, many with small band-aids right under their right eye, which hyper-efficient eagle-eyed security hardass Gina somehow failed to notice.
The plane takes off! All plane exteriors are CGI, which was apparently handled by Bob and Sam's Digital Imaging and Hoagie Hut. Soon the Aryans, led by one dude with a lame Fu Manchu (but any Fu Manchu is usually better than no Fu Manchu) takes over the plane, with the help of his other buddy with a stache and fauxhawk--who looks a little more like the bartender on leather night at Jim's Rump Pump than an Aryan Brotherhood member. Meanwhile, Earth-bound Aryans kidnap the wife and kids of pilot Joe Franklin, who seems to be about fifteen years older than his wife. This is to keep the pilot from "trying something stupid" in order to save the plane. The kidnapping is followed by a car chase with the black FBI agent whose eyes are so large he always appears to be in deep shock, and in which we learn that you can discharge multiple rounds from a machine gun directly at car six feet away and yet not hit it. Meanwhile, Gina has ended up down in the luggage hold of the plane, unbeknownst to the hijackers, why, kind of like in Air Force One!
THEN! The president of the United States is brought into a situation room that is essentially a small hotel conference room with a Presidential seal on the wall just beyond where the president sits. This movie makes a Strong Statement for Gender Equality by having the president played by a woman, and that woman is... you guessed it, Meredith Baxter. This is again the same thing as Air Force One, which had Glenn Close as the vice president in the situation room, handling the "looking-worried" duties. We'll get back to this later, but you should know now that Joe, the pilot, is supposedly the president's brother.
So Gina is patched right through to the President on her cell (I thought cell phones make planes crash?) and gets advice. The hijackers dump the plane's fuel so that it can't be diverted to other airports. The experts in the situation room tell her: "We need to override the fuel dump. Look for something that says 'Override Fuel Dump.'" You might be surprised to learn that the mechanics of super-advanced airliners use the exact same press-on lettering as you might find in the hardware store for the addresses of rural outdoor mailboxes. Hey, why spend the extra money, right? Then comes one of the biggest laughs of the movie as Gina looks at the control panel and says "I don't see anything. Looks like a Christmas tree, all lit up!" and we then cut immediately to a control panel that has exactly nine (9) lights. That's it, above. Then for no reason at all they lose control of the plane and it plunges low over a city, flying amidst the skyscrapers (can a huge airliner really fly on its side for any distance?) and hitting a few harmless radio towers.
Then we cut to THIS (right) and you have to say YES, that is A white house, but is it THE White House? Inside is the president and her several advisors, and by now you have noticed that all they have to do the whole movie is look worried, and point and stare at the imaginary viewscreen. We occasionally see them talking to the Aryans on it, but otherwise we keep seeing them staring at it and reacting to it, even when it's things they couldn't possibly be seeing, like the exterior of the plane. As for looking worried, one can't help but notice that several of the president's advisors have trouble even doing that. One suspects that Baxter and her entire crew's segment was shot in on day, or two at most.
They try to take control of the plane via satellite, which doesn't work for no reason, but which somehow precipitates another low city fly-over, and more broken radio towers. Then, suddenly, the air marshall--who has apparently done absolutely nothing for hours?--suddenly gets up, shoots and misses, and gets shot immediately. Thanks for the help, pal. Awesome job. Then there's a lot of drama down in the hold, when SUDDENLY the movie turns much more violent and gory with direct shots to the head, blood spattering out the back, etc. By the way, none of these bullets pierce the outer hull. At a certain point Gina gets shot point blank but I think only audience members under the age of eight would say anything but "DUH! OBVIOUSLY she has a bulletproof vest on!"
Meanwhile the hostage situation, which has gone on forever and been fantastically boring, gets resolved by the agent with the too-big eyes. In here you will notice an Apple laptop with duct tape over the logo (i.e. this movie is so cheap they couldn't even pay the licensing and Apple wouldn't voluntarily be associated with it), and a guy with a printed 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper taped to the back of his jumpsuit to make a "uniform." Then we see the REAL White House in an establishing shot, which makes the earlier faux one kind of... a huge mistake? But overall these things are just making the movie charming. Then the president makes the decision to shoot down the plane and orders one of the CGI F-14s following it to shoot a missile, but one missile "goes rogue" and hits a city building! I love how the movie just accepts that hey, some missiles go rogue, not much we can do about it, and the fact that tens if not hundreds of people were just killed is not addressed, least of all by the president. But this is just the first of the TOTALLY random violence against innocent civilians, and the next one gets its own paragraph! It's THAT good!
So first (this is not the amazing one) Gina and the lead baddie have had some altercation I have spared you the recitation of, but the long and the short is he blown up and off comes an engine, and soon after we get the fun sight of a huge jet engine shooting down onto a city street! We, however, never see anyone obliterated into a bloody cloud with stray body parts flying, so obviously that tamps down the fun. Earlier we have also had badly-composited wreckage falling (all those radio towers, yo), but they also just fall in the foreground and never hit anyone. Anyway, so the president orders the space laser to shoot down the plane. We are to understand that this is a wrenching decision because her brother is on that plane. Anyway, they activate the space laser and it randomly takes out an F-14... Okay, awesome... and then it hits the ground and starts incinerating a busy city street!!! AMAZING. That's when the movie really won me over. But again, we never see any civilian (or, you know, CROWDS of civilians) being turned to ash by the death beam from the sky, and that's where this movie stays just this shy of greatness.
Okay, time to wrap this up. First, the semi-hot terrorist is killed. Then the hot terrorist is killed. Then the family of the pilot is saved. Then the "glass half-full" metaphor is notably deployed. Then the plane flies low over Washington, and hits and knocks the top off the Washington Monument! In here we have several shots of the 20-or-so terrified passengers, none looking quite as terrified as the guy at the extreme right. Look for him! If you look carefully, you'll also notice that many of the passengers are not wearing sat belts during the perilous water landing. So they land in that river that runs through Washington and get out, and as the pilot is reunited with his family--THERE'S the intact Washington Monument in the background! It's damaged in another shot, a second later. There's a little more bullshit, and we're out.
It was fun! I have given up on watching the Ultra-Shark and suchlike movies because they're too knowingly awful, made purposely to be camp, and that ruins the fun. This movie takes itself seriously, at least on the surface, and that's what makes it fun. Although the more I think about things like the fake, then the real White House and the undamaged, then the damaged Washington Monument, I have to wonder if some of it wasn't intentional. But if it was, they didn't call it out, and that is appreciated. And it has little touches like the missile that goes rogue for no reason and the space laser that starts incinerating a city--I want a whole movie about a space laser now--that it's full of little surprises. Add to that the myriad and multiple points at which everything is cheap and wrong, and you've got gold. As my friend I recommended this to said: "There's so much wrong in the first two minutes, you know you've got a winner."
If you like fun bad movies, sure!