Plane Disasters. The movies in which pretty much everyone is either guaranteed to survive or die depending on a single outcome (Airplane 77 being one of the few exceptions) – will it land? This film has a death count of one. Regardless, it’s quite slickly produced and does well with its low-budget roots by focusing on close quarter action and so much ham you could feed a small village. That quantity of ham will essentially decide if this is a disaster movie you’ll enjoy or eye roll at.
The disasters faced
Decompressing planes, an ‘internet killer’, cargo that just won’t sit still, a company man and NO SCOTCH LEFT ONBOARD!!! This is also the worst case of ‘born in a barn’ syndrome I’ve seen in years.
Rough Air is a TV movie but aside from the typical TV movie score, it manages to conceal this by never extending itself too far in the technical department. Besides, a shaky camera and lots of flinging yourself about in aeroplane based films go a long way. The first 20 minutes introduces us to a motley crew of characters including the abrasive drunk, the ditzy stewardess, the newlywed mechanic (gee, he might be useful), the “gnarly” students and convicted killer busy chumming it up with his police escort.
Of course, the leading duo of a stewardess and a shamed pilot have broken up. You know their love will be affirmed within the next ninety minutes by their awkward glances at each other. Alexandra Paul looks at Eric Roberts for most of the most like I look at the menu in a restaurant. Roberts himself will wield all of the cheese from the 1970s to schmooze and order the plane to the ground, monologuing at himself along the way.
All in all, it’s a real classic 70’s era set up and it’s this that carries the film through as each of the stories unfold when the cargo door opens. From there it’s down to trying to land the plane with wonky controls, low fuel and a huge open cargo door. Just how many romances will blossom in the meantime between all the passengers and crew? We’ve only 86 minutes so best get going!
Why is it worth watching?
Rough Air on Flight 534 borrows from the school of Airport in the best possible way. It sets up one-dimensional characters and parades them before you, although it is not nearly as bloodthirsty as its 70’s counterparts. Everyone has a dilemma or a reason to live and each character will stop mid-drama to remind you of that before continuing. That’s not to say the acting and characters aren’t well done, it’s just stilted in that way to very quickly have some story beats play out.
One of the funniest things about Rough Air on Flight 534 is that every single story beat will also be underscored by a very 90s made for TV synth score. Every time someones face looks scared into the camera – SYNTHS! Every time someone looks shifty or is going to do something stupid to jeopardise the flight – SYNTHS! If this was an 80s film there’d just be 86 minutes of tom drums. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about ham – or hamming it up. Alongside the melodrama, I found it funny and entertaining, but if you aren’t into that kind of overly obvious foreshadowing (even if it ends up being comical) then it will be a turnoff.
Interestingly, from a science and technology perspective, the film is actually quite well researched. Captain Ferguson that appeared at the beginning of the movie is an actual Captain with Air Canada. He was hired to read the script and put realism into the flight deck procedures. He clearly had little say in the rest of the film but it perhaps explains the interesting cockpit chat where Brooks and Hogan discuss fly by wire technology and how reliance on tech to fly may not be the best way forward if it takes the human instinct and feel out of the equation.
Outside shots of the plane are used sparingly and the word ‘grey screen’ comes to mind, but the actual decompression of the plane is handled quite well albeit with nothing new added to the formula. Plenty of luggage is thrown around and this film seems to want to blow large amounts of paper everywhere although I’ve no idea where its all from. The finale uses some decent green screen and proportion swapping too.
Eric Roberts is actually low key taking the mickey I’m sure. His story is so similar to Airplane (including fade-in flashback) that when he immediately starts pushing the Captain around or calling his ex ‘baby’ immediately after the decompression – I wondered if we were in a comedy. There are quite a few likeable support characters too which elevates the film. Roger is an all-round nice guy as the mechanic and all his wife does the entire movie is scream at random intervals – but rarely when everyone else is! Possibly my favourite character is Cal, played by Carlo Rota, whom I’ve seen in a few things playing the arsehole businessman so, so well. His self-entitlement and comedic timing in this film are gold.
“The captain’s tied down, there’s a hole the size of a Volkswagen, we’re in the middle of a storm, and the pilot crashed on his last flight.” Tracey
Three memorable moments
- The decompression sequence
- The fact Sarah, the Icelandic air traffic controller brings all the banter to a disaster
- The whole subplot of the murderer basically amounts to ‘well he killed his family but he saved the passengers so alls well that ends well!’
The obligatory weird moment
Having survived everything so far, the entire plane decides to scream when they see the runway approach. It’s just so overly camp, it’s great. That’s the followed by the end sequence where an absolutely stupid man stands and watches a plane slowly roll towards him and his office building gormless. It’s utterly stupid and reminds me of Speed 2’s finale – but with zero budget for destruction.
The drinking game
This film spends the entire time pairing characters off. One of them is always being weak and feeble so the other character has to be heroic and look after them. Take a shot every time you notice it and thank me after your hangover has cleared.
Camp? Check! Cliche characters? Check! Everyone clearly lapping up the hammy scenario? Check! That to me makes a solid disaster movie. While it doesn’t have big effects, it plays to its strengths of a decent cast and is just as enjoyable as the Airport series.
Rating: X/5 – So Bad Its Good (1 or 5 – personal taste)
If you liked Rough Air on Flight 534 then you may like…
- Airport – for equally camp hammy drama but with even less disaster going on
- Airport 75 – for rehashing the same film again with other actors
- Zero Hour – the aeroplane ride where you don’t want to eat the fish…
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