Location Matters: the Orlando Sanford Airport from ‘Passenger 57′
Location Matters is a series that reflects upon pieces of Orlando immortalized in popular film.
The Orlando Sanford International Airport: consistently in the top 30 of our nation’s busiest airports despite its size and comparatively remote bearings. In addition to shuttling travelers to such exotic locales as Reykjavik and Allentown, OSIA offers numerous courses in flight training. Indeed, flight training has been at the core of this hub’s existence since it was commissioned as a Naval Air Station in 1942. More important than any of that, obviously, is the fact that portions of the 1992 Wesley Snipes action vehicle Passenger 57 were filmed at OSIA.
As former police officer John Cutter, Wesley Snipes is just trying to enjoy a relaxing flight from Louisiana to Los Angeles before he starts his new job as vice president for Atlantic Airlines’ anti-terrorism unit. Unfortunately for Cutter, there just happens to be a terrorist on this bird, one Charles Rane (Bruce Payne), international nogoodnik who naturally assumes control of the aircraft once it’s in flight with extreme prejudice and some equally intense violence. Can John Cutter thwart Charles Rane and his dastardly femme fatale (Elizabeth Hurley) before it’s too late? Listen, I don’t want to give anything away, but as Snipes famously spat in the trailers for Passenger 57, “Always bet on black.”
Most critics dismissed Passenger 57 as “Die Hard on a plane,” which is fair, but this movie is sort of critic-proof in the sense that it was probably only looking for (and definitely gained) traction amongst male adolescents such as myself who were hungry for anything Shaft-esque. The first time I saw Snipes toss off the “bet on black” line in a trailer, my reaction absolutely was, “That’s the coolest shit I’ve ever seen.” My mind has always boggled that this phrase did not catch on to a greater degree. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the flurry of one liners Snipes spewed in the following year’s Demolition Man (gotta admit, “Simon says, ‘Die!'” has a pretty good ring to it).
In many ways, a hero is only as good as their villain, and the reason we get so charged up about Cutter’s mission in P57 (as the fans call it) is because Bruce Payne is just so deliciously hate-able as the sleek Euro baddie. Do we despise Payne’s Rane because he’s a fierce global crime lord or because he dresses like he’s auditioning to be Duran Duran’s stockbroker? Nobody knows, but evil pours off the guy like the high-end cologne you know he’s wearing. Then there’s Liz Hurley, who appears to be receiving acute sexual thrill from torturing a plane full of average citizens.
As with many of the sacred film locations this column visits, you will find no permanent celebration of Passenger 57 at Orlando Sanford International Airport (despite the fact Wesley Snipes was born in Orlando and his father Wesley Rudolph was an aircraft engineer). There is no bronze statue of the titular hero, no glass case containing Bruce Payne’s mullet and blazer, no agitated Tom Sizemore impersonators who roam the terminal looking for John Cutter. Sure, there’s logic in an airport not making reference to entertainment based around that very airport’s lack of security, but still, it would be nice if somebody erected a bronze statue of Wesley Snipes somewhere. Maybe Cleveland can do something Major League-related.
Similarly, the state/county fair that is the setting for one of the film’s harrowing non-plane action sequences was allowed to be dismantled from its patches of Sanford grass, cruelly robbing future generations the chance to play Cutter vs. Pane on the very spot where the showdown originated. Methinks the city of Sanford felt burned that Passenger 57 masked its identity as Louisiana. Why else would they not lock those bumper cars and corn dog tents to the ground?
Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, at least we have this behind-the-scenes peek via E! circa the film’s release. Included is footage of Snipes discussing black identity over lunch with several Jones High honor students (the kids were invited to be extras in the aforementioned carnival sequence and engage the eager star on issues of race in the modern world; pleasantly involved stuff for a ’90s E! featurette). Bruce Payne is also seen wincing comically about the number of names his character scrolled through before Charles Rane.