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Film / Turbulence

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Turbulence is a 1997 American disaster action thriller film directed by Robert Butler and starring Ray Liotta, Lauren Holly, Héctor Elizondo, Rachel Ticotin, Ben Cross, Brendan Gleeson, and Jeffrey DeMunn.

After being arrested in New York for a murder that he says he didn't commit, Ryan Weaver (Liotta) must be extradited to Los Angeles to face trial. He and another prisoner, Stubbs (Gleeson), are escorted by four US marshals on a commercial flight aboard a Boeing 747, which – in spite of it being Christmas Eve – is nearly empty, with only eleven people on board.

During the flight, Stubbs breaks free and begins a shootout with the marshals. Amidst the chaos, and before Stubbs ends up shot dead himself, both the pilot and co-pilot are killed and a stray bullet puts a hole in a window. Because of the death of the pilots, Teri Halloran (Holly), a stewardess, makes her way into the cockpit and learns she is the only one left capable of keeping the 747 from crashing. To make matters worse, the plane is heading for a Category 6 storm.

Meanwhile, Weaver, who freed himself during the shootout, unsuccessfully attempts to save the last remaining marshal and appears to be horrified by the ordeal, increasing the passengers' trust in him. However, his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, having severe nervous breakdowns, and seemingly not being after all the nice guy he said to be...

The film did well enough on home video to become a trilogy with two Direct to Video sequels. They are Turbulence 2: Fear of Flying (1999) and Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal (2001), each with a different cast.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The film opens with the arrest of Ryan Weaver.
  • And Starring: Héctor Elizondo gets the "And" credit.
  • Ax-Crazy: Weaver once he reveals his true colors.
    • Also Stubbs, who kills one of the U.S. Marshals with a piece from the aircraft toilet's sink and ends up accidentally killing the pilot.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: It's bullets, Crash Course Landings and Ray Liotta hamming it up on Christmas Eve.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Teri ends up shooting Weaver to death before landing the plane.
  • Big Bad: Ryan Weaver.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Ryan Weaver starts off seeming to have everyone's best interests in mind and trying to defuse the standoff between Stubbs and the U.S. Marshall. He reveals he's nuts pretty quickly afterwards.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Teri takes Weaver down this way.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal example. Captain Powell forces the marshals to turn over any weapons not on their manifest to keep in the cockpit. One marshal then turns over a back-up revolver that Powell takes with him. Teri ends up using that gun to kill Weaver in the climax. Due to the gun being unloaded, she loses most of the bullets and has to make one shot count.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Teri as an airplane pilot once the captain and the first officer are killed in flight.
  • Crash Course Landing: After the pilot and co-pilot are killed by Stubbs' rampage, flight attendant Teri has to land the plane. And fend off Ax-Crazy Weaver
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The entire plane is highly decorated with Christmas trees and other decorations, like lights, wreaths and mistletoes (which made Roger Ebert wonder in his review if somebody had ever seen Christmas decorations inside a plane), but the fact that it's Christmas Eve doesn't factor into the plot (conspiciously, the plane only has a dozen passengers, but it isn't made clear whether that has something or not to do with the holidays).
  • Didn't Think This Through: If his overall goal was to crash the plane into LAZ, Weaver would have been much more successful in doing so if he'd played nice and completely ingratiated himself to Teri, as she might have even brought him into the cockpit, putting him in a prime place to do what he wanted before she stopped him. Instead, he kills her friend Maggie and goes completely Ax-Crazy, putting Teri totally on her guard and ready to do whatever she has to do to stop him.
  • Dirty Cop: Played with. Lt. Aldo Hines knew Weaver was guilty, but didn't have the evidence to convict him so he planted evidence to get Weaver convicted. He's also presented as a bit of a publicity hound and gets excited when one of the other detectives in his division tells him someone wants him for an interview, only to laugh and reveal it's a joke.
  • Disposable Pilot: The pilot and co-pilot are the first ones to go down when Stubbs begins his shootout.
  • The Dragon: Stubbs, albeit unknown to him. When Stubbs tries to take over the plane, Weaver allows him to kill off most of the U.S. Marshals before shooting Stubbs himself when Stubbs tries to shove the last marshal out of the boarding door IN FLIGHT, all to initially appear heroic. Stubbs even kills the last marshal for Weaver out of muscle reflex after Weaver shoots him.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Weaver is a Serial Killer with a particular penchant for trying to look like a nice guy and having Seinfeldian Conversations about films (so his victims will tell him hints that he will use for a Hannibal Lecture).
  • Final Girl: Teri ends up having to take the serial killer down alone in the climax. Slight variant on this trope in that a) after she dispatches the serial killer, she still has to land the plane, and b) the rest of the passengers of the plane weren't killed, but actually put on the cargo hold (although the killer lied and said that he killed them all).
  • Hidden Depths: Teri manages to kill Weaver by herself, and also lands the plane with the help of ground control and an English pilot (Ben Cross) who guides her through the landing procedures and flying the plane.
  • Hope Spot: Teri's all ready to land, then Weaver destroys the autopilot software, forcing Teri back into the air for another try.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Arquette gets stabbed in the throat by Stubbs to Stubbs can steal his more powerful sidearm.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: After the serial killer breaks loose and (supposedly) kills everyone on the plane except the flight attendant Teri, he stalks after her while gently singing "Buffalo Sally, won'tcha come out tonight, come out tonight, ..."
  • Jerkass: Weaver strangles Maggie, wants to assault Teri, and has every intention of making sure he crashes the plane at LAX for the maximum damage.
  • Just Plane Wrong:
    • A 747 can not fly inverted. Its engines will flame out from fuel starvation.
    • The autopilot disengages when pressure is lost, then reengages when the hole is plugged. Autopilot does not work like that.
    • The cabin door of a 747 is designed specifically to be virtually impossible to open in-flight.
    • When cabin air pressure is lost, most of the oxygen masks fail to drop.
    • When the hull is breached, the pilot declares an emergency over the radio and requests permission to descend, which is denied. The correct procedure is to descend, then tell air traffic control what is going on so they can direct other aircraft and keep the way clear.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After spending the entire movie trying to assault Teri, Weaver gets killed by her.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Raines framing of Weaver has driven him so over the edge that once Teri is the only person left to handle the plane, he decides he's going to get rid of her and crash it into LAX for maximum carnage.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Weaver would have gone a long way to achieving his endgame of crashing the plane into LAX if he'd kept up his nice guy act for longer and ingratiated himself completely to Teri. But he can't help himself, and Teri is shown very quickly after the shootout how disturbed he is when he drags the pilot's corpse down the hallway while singing "Jingle Bells."
  • One-Word Title: Naturally.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: While he planted evidence, Hines is this, and gets Teri to be on her guard around Weaver, which saves her life.
  • Red Herring: In the opening. Raines describes Weaver's "Type" (a petite blonde) before revealing when he's arrested in the beginning that he's dating a brunette woman. That and the reveal that Raines planted evidence to convict him is clearly meant to keep the audience guessing whether or not Weaver IS innocent. The script doesn't keep up the facade much longer after Stubbs and the marshals are killed, however.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Maggie is strangled by Weaver at the midway point to drive home how psychotic and Ax-Crazy Weaver is.
  • Serial Killer: Ryan Weaver is indeed guilty of being the "Lonely Hearts Killer."
  • Suicide Attack: Weaver plans to crash the plane in LAX and kill himself and everyone else he can rather than go to prison.
  • Taking You with Me: Weaver's plan to fly the plane into LAX would have the secondhand benefit of killing Raines, who's at LAX air traffic control trying to give Teri insight on Weaver. For that matter, Teri herself, after she proves she's not going down without a fight.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: While the film itself plays a guessing game for the first half hour or so whether Weaver is guilty, anyone who saw the trailer before the film will know Weaver is Az Crazy.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Once Weaver convinces the last marshal to give up his gun (Stubbs is holding Teri at gunpoint) Stubbs decides to kill the last marshal by opening the boarding door and shoving him out, in spite of the protests of Teri, Maggie, AND Weaver, who try to explain what a repeatedly what a fucking moronic idea that is. When Stubbs refuses to listen, he gives Weaver a prime opportunity to shoot him and temporarily make himself look like a hero.
  • Villain Protagonist: Played with. Ray Liotta is top billed, and he's definitely not a hero in this.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's never explained whether The first officer died from head trauma when his head hit the console or Weaver finished him off to make it easier to take control of the plane and crash it. He's still breathing when Weaver goes to the cockpit in the aftermath of Stubbs' rampage, but Weaver never admits killing him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once Stubbs goes on a rampage and kills all the U.S. Marshal's Weaver takes the opportunity to kill him to make himself look like a hero to Teri so he can ingratiate himself to her.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Weaver believes this of Teri. He's wrong.