Talk about too much of a not-so-good thing. The made-for-TV hostage thriller "Final Approach" might've been a tight little B picture at, say, 80 minutes. But the darn thing keeps going and going, reaching a full 169 minutes. That's 80 minutes of decent, if cheesy, storytelling spread out over nearly three hours, with plenty of middling filler clogging up the joint.
The film - no relation to the 1991 sci-fi cult favorite of the same name - premiered on the Hallmark Channel in May, and it fits well with that cable outlet's style of corny, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes terrible low budget efforts. The cast is something of a who's who of the bottom shelf direct-to-video/made-for-cable market: Dean Cain, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ernie Hudson earn top billing, while Lea Thompson, Tracey Gold, William Forsythe, and a host of hey-that-face-looks-familiar types packing in the supporting roles.
It's all as gleefully tacky as it sounds. But again: why so long? Buried deep within all the rambling subplots is a tight little thriller that rises above its familiar (read: rip-off) set-ups to provide brisk action and frothy diversion. The film opens with a raid on a militia compound; FBI negotiator Jack Bender (Cain) does his best to avoid bloodshed, but his bosses have itchy trigger fingers, and mayhem ensues. Fast forward a spell, where Jack has resigned in protest. He hops a flight to L.A., and wouldn't ya know it, the plane gets hijacked by terrorist Greg Gilliad (Hall), who demands the immediate release of the same militia leader (Forsythe) from the FBI raid. Ah, but Gilliad is a student of the Hans Gruber School of Evil Planning, and perhaps the hijacking is part of a greater, mysterious plan.
While everything here is cut-and-pasted from a wide variety of other films, there's enough zing in the right spots to keep things moving. Cain and Hall do fine work - they might be limited by underdeveloped formula roles, but at least they bring a certain energy. The opening FBI raid sequence is crisp, several tense showdowns between hijackers and hostages are gripping, the final shootout moves nicely, and for all its eye-rolling goofiness, the bit where Jack and a fellow passenger (Barry Livingston) have to land the plane, Karen Black-style, actually works.
All of this adds up to a nice chunk of ridiculous fun. Toss in your obligatory stuff about Jack's former boss monitoring the situation from the ground and you've got, hey, look! 80 minutes right on the nose. That's enough for an average B picture; we'll even let ten extra minutes of padding fly by, if you're afraid of the shorter running time.
Oh, but no. The filmmakers (Hallmark veteran Armand Mastroianni directed; "Heroes" co-producers Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster provided the script) were apparently required to submit a "three hour television event" for the channel, and so we get a maddening amount of extraneous junk slowing things down, clogging up the action, snoozing up the drama.
Subplot One features Thompson as Jack's worried wife, who, in between bouts of hand-wringing, also conveniently serves as a FAA top dog who's able to bark orders and offer the feds reassurances that her hubby's doing the best he can. Subplot Two finds Gold as a local TV newscaster who offers videophone reports from the sky; when she's not stuck offering lengthy plot recaps to anyone who'll listen, she's the subject of limp commentary on the news industry (her slimy bosses don't care about her safety, only about big ratings, you see). Subplots Three through Whatever involve sick passengers, assassinations of Senators, kidnapped housewives, helpful flight attendants, and so on. If there's a disaster movie situation you've seen before, odds are you'll see it again here.
All that extra baggage weighs the movie down until it's just not fun anymore. It's able to pick up in spots, but should we have to sit through all that mediocre dialogue about all those mediocre side characters to get to it? It's all just too much to keep "Final Approach" in the air.
"Final Approach" arrives on DVD courtesy Genius Entertainment. As mentioned above, the film is presented here in a 169-minute version. That running time makes it longer than your average three hour-minus-commercials TV movie (by about a full half hour, if I'm guessing right). I didn't see the movie when it aired in May, so I can't say for sure what's been added; the minor internet scuttlebutt I could find suggests several subplots, previously cut for time, have been restored.
While some online guides list the film as having premiered as a miniseries, with the two parts airing back-to-back, recent showtime guides display reruns of the film airing as one full movie. It's presented on DVD in that form, as one full movie; I didn't notice any clumsy pasting of the halves, so perhaps this was the original intention. (Meanwhile, commercial break fade-outs remain intact.)
Video & Audio
For a basic cable production, "Final Approach" looks quite spiffy in this anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. The image is full of nice, sharp detail, with minimal grain. It can't quite hide its low budget roots (there's a too-clean feel to the piece that always reminds you that you're watching a made-for-TV flick), but for what it is, it works very well.
The stereo soundtrack comes through clearly, about the same as you'd expect from an average broadcast. No subtitles are included.
Interviews with three of the main stars are separated into two featurettes: "Prepare for Final Approach: An Interview with Anthony Michael Hall" (5:31) and "Fasten Your Seatbelt: Behind the Scenes with Dean Cain and Lea Thompson" (6:40). Both mix behind-the-scenes footage with some better-than-average discussions on the filmmaking process; listening to all three stars is a pleasure. Presented in 1.33:1 full frame.
A batch of previews for other Genius titles plays as the disc loads.
Viewers who are tolerant toward such made-for-cable cheese might find the chore of wading through the excess subplots an acceptable payoff for the rewards of the film's brighter moments. Rent It.