There is something deeply irksome about this film: it’s called 97 Minutes and yet is, in fact, roughly 93 minutes long. Not that making it longer would have improved it particularly, but ensuring it unfolded in real time would have slightly enhanced, at least in formal terms, an otherwise decent but nondescript action thriller. In this film’s world, the clock starts ticking when a vaguely defined quasi-Slavic terrorist cell hijack a plane bound for JFK over the Atlantic Ocean. During the tussle for control, the pilot is seriously injured, the co-pilot killed, and the fuselage pierced by a couple of bullets from 3D-printed guns, creating an unstable altitude-pressure situation.
There are civilian passengers on board, so if the plane is to land before it runs out of fuel, national security agents on the ground, led by director Hawkins (Alec Baldwin, presumably hustling up some scratch for his legal bills), must find a way of turning the autopilot on or shooting down the plane before it becomes a weapon in itself. Meanwhile, one of the hijackers, Alex (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), turns out to be an embedded Interpol agent who in turn conscripts a former doctor, Kim (MyAnna Buring), into helping him revive the pilot temporarily with EpiPen shots in order to get advice on guiding the plane. That strategy ultimately kills the poor pilot, in front of his young son (Jake Hayes) no less, but Alex and Kim seemingly have no other choice if they are to save everyone else on the plane.
In essence, Pavan Grover’s script feels like a more complicated variation on the runaway trolley problem much debated by philosophers, but here there are also military jets trying to shoot the trolley/airplane and pauses for characters to reminisce about loved ones lost in the “war on terror”. The always-compelling Rhys Meyers brings a certain icy darkness to the role of Alex who sometimes seems a bit too ruthless to be a good cop while Buring is relatable as the panicked medical professional with her own demons.
The script, meanwhile, throws in a few interesting spins on the formula in the last act, although the very last twist is perhaps a turn too far given it annihilates the twist just before that. But if you let that go, this is reasonably fluid pulp entertainment, crafted efficiently by Finnish director Timo Vuorensola, who is clearly trying to go a little legit after having made his reputation with the cult comedy nonsense that is the Iron Sky series.
97 Minutes is released on 10 July on digital platforms.