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97 Minutes (2023) Review

97 Minutes was directed by Timo Vuorensola (Iron Sky: The Coming Race, Jeepers Creepers: Reborn), written by Pavan Grover (Unspeakable, Mr. Hell), and stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Mercy, The Good Neighbor), MyAnna Buring (The Witcher, Ripper Street), Pavan Grover, Alec Baldwin (Pixie, Beetlejuice), and Jo Martin (Holby City, Cheeky). It’s about an undercover Interpol agent who’s forced to save the occupants of a hijacked plane before it either crashes or gets shot down.

The Plot: VOD marketplaces are inundated with filler products trying to put different spins on old plots. Grover’s script for 97 Minutes isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, and with the way its pedestrian storytelling falls apart, I’m unsure he was trying at all after the first act.

Flight 420 is making its way to New York, but Russian terrorists led by Anan (Grover) aren’t interested in getting there safely, taking over the plane in short order. Luckily for NSA admin Toyin (Martin), undercover Interpol agent Alex (Meyers) is on the flight and on the case. That case isn’t given any detailing aside from a few throwaway lines, as 97 Minutes quickly indicates that it’s not important, which is untrue at best and lazy at worst. Regardless, Alex has a job to do, and along with nurse Kim (Buring), he intends to get it done before the militants do whatever it is they’re interested in doing.

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On the ground, the NSA is working with minimal information, Director Hawkins (Baldwin) doesn’t want to wait around for Alex to retake the plane or at least settle things down, so a plan to shoot down the 767 before it reaches American soil is quickly devised and argued over for a large portion of the feature. Juggling the two plots comes relatively easy for Vuorensola but both of them are so thinly sketched that anything less than competence would’ve been more surprising than anything that happens throughout the entirety of 97 Minutes, nuclear threat included.

The Characters: A lot of the cast are just coasting as best they can because the script gave no guidance to speak of. Since the main characters are underwritten, Vuorensola tries to throw in some bit players, but nothing works to cover up the holes.

Alex isn’t given any time to be established before 97 Minutes gets going, so the feature has to stop on a dime to dole out the bare minimum of the man’s tragic loss of his son during some conflict in some explosion, keeping a piece of shrapnel to remember him. I’m sure there are more positive trinkets but to each their own. His humanity is never in question, but without flaws or sufficient shading, Meyers has nothing to play, working overtime to sell discontent and anger.

Kim seems like she’s going to play a major part in the film, but after she keeps Flight 420’s pilot alive long enough to regain some stability her participation plummets. She gets a similar sliver of screen time to mention her abusive ex who led her to ruin her confidence in her nursing abilities to such a degree that she accidentally prescribed the wrong drug to a patient, but again, this doesn’t matter.

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Government figures aren’t much beyond the typical stereotypes, with the deputy who knows that there’s more to the situation at hand butting her head with the hardened, blunt-force higher-up who just wants the problem solved. Grover didn’t come up with anyone at all, much less someone to connect to. Meyers is trying, but the rest of the cast seem content with collecting checks after realizing they were hired to do nothing.

The Thrills: Dubbing a movie “97 Minutes” might make you think that the movie is going to be set in real time, adding urgency to an already alarming situation, but it isn’t, and the only excitement present comes when the credits roll.

Taking over the passenger plane is relatively easy for Anan and company, and the process is moderately interesting thanks to the film’s usage of 3D printed guns, but the act itself is something that’s been done over and over again in other outings with more cunning or more violence, whereas Vuorensola has neither. Expected obstacles are in play too, such as a wounded pilot, an attempt at an uprising by the passengers, and depressurization of the plane, but they’re all too short to make an impression. Every possible opportunity to make a palatable if trite hostage situation is here, but the filmmakers were just checking boxes.

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Alex’s undercover placement within the terrorist cell should make for something at least moderately original to this kind of thriller, but Grover doesn’t have any interest in using his own setup. We’re never given an idea of how long Alex has been embedded or how loyal he’s made himself look, and the skyjackers rarely question him. 97 Minutes tries to keep up the illusion that his Interpol identity matters after he takes out one of his supposed colleagues, but there are no real consequences for that action. It’s an empty shell of an idea.

NSA goings on aren’t all that engaging either, as Hawkins jumps the shark on wanting to blow the plane out of the sky, dumping any chance to escalate the suspense later in the runtime. Toyin’s discovery of a nuclear payload basically makes the scenes of her argument with her superior useless too because the fever pitch has already been applied. Since the movie starts out with all of its cards on the table, there’s nowhere to go but forward; everyone knows the plane isn’t going down.

The Technics: The director’s debut feature showed that he can stretch a budget if nothing else, or so it seemed, as everything that has come after somehow looks worse – including 97 Minutes – which isn’t far off in monetary range from where Vuorensola started.

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Visually, the film is all over the place. Flight 420 looks like it could be a real one, as the plane set is convincingly claustrophobic and adequately detailed to appear like the interior of a 767, but the NSA headquarters is far too sparse and flimsy looking to pass for agency property. Lighting isn’t easy for a huge set, which is shown here via the flat look of every scene set on the ground; it only gets worse when juxtaposed with the gradual change of the plane’s condition, which blows the former out of the water (sky?). As far as the CGI goes, it’s just plain awful.

Editorial issues sink 97 Minutes even lower, as Vuorensola already did a poor job of mapping the setting, Eric Potter’s (Paradise Cove, Section 8) zipping around doesn’t make things any clearer. Minor characters enter and exit the spotlight without much rhyme or reason, action beats are rendered ineffective by questionable cutting, and the plane itself may as well be a maze for how badly a vehicle that is essentially a straight line is charted.

Hijacking thrillers have a long list of highlights, but Vuorensola reminds us that their heyday was 25 years ago. The only thing 97 Minutes takes away is time.

97 Minutes is available on VOD and Digital Platforms in the US via Vertical Entertainment. 101 Films will release it in the UK on June 19th. And if you have another 97 minutes to kill, FilmTagger can suggest something to watch.

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