14th Apr2017

‘Altitude’ VOD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Denise Richards, Dolph Lundgren, Jonathan Lipnicki, Greer Grammer, Stephen Graybill, John Posey, Chelsea Edmundson, Chuck Liddell, Jordi Vilasuso, Kirk Barker | Written by Jesse Mittelstadt | Directed by Alex Merkin


FBI agent Gretchen Blair is on a flight to Washington D.C. when the man seated beside her makes an unusual offer. He explains that the plane they’re on is about to be hijacked, and promises to pay her millions of dollars if she can get him safely back on the ground. When a gang of professional thieves takes control of the plane, she realizes he isn’t joking. Soon Gretchen finds herself caught in the middle of an elaborate mid-air heist, fighting to save the passengers while the thieves tear the plane apart, searching for the stolen loot hidden somewhere on board.

Made by the writer/director duo behind 2009’s underrated mystery thriller Across the Hall (one of actress Brittany Murphy’s final films), Altitude is a odd movie. Filmed like a creepy horror flick a la Wes Craven’s Red Eye – and filled with dark shadows, low-light and a foreboding sense of dread – Merkin and Mitterlstadt’s film is world’s apart from their debut outing. Looking like it was filmed on the cheap, with a hefty amount of post-production to give it a more “filmic” look (and to hide some dodgy effects too), Altitude‘s finished appearance just reminded me of the early days of Instagram, when those vintage filters were de rigueur. And it would seem someone behind the film is even more of a fan of lens flare than J.J. Abrams!

Altitude may not look pretty, but it is pretty inconsequential. As in nothing really happens. At all. Bad guys hijack the plan, there’s some shenanigans on board as the intended target goes into hiding (and hides the stash he and the gang now tracking him stole). Bad guys then shout at the passengers, all the while head-hijacker Dolph Lundgren flies the plane. And that’s about it. When the film does try to be all dramatic and ramp up the action it just falls flat. Mainly due to, again, the lacklustre visuals.

The filmmakers may have delivered an uninspired film but despite that fact, credit must go to the two female leads in the film. Denise Richards gets to play a female version of Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57, complete with witty one-liners as she kicks bad guy arse. This is easily the strongest character she has played since her appearance in Starship Troopers. Meanwhile the real star of the show is Greer Grammer, as Sadie, the badass bitch of the hijacking crew – who manages to steal EVERY scene she’s in and shines even when she’s working in the dark (yes, I am going to keep going on about the terrible visuals!) More of Grammer in future please – the bitchier the better!

Part Passenger 57, part Non-Stop, Altitude nevers reaches the heights of those much better plane-set movies; in fact it should probably never have left the runway.

Altitude is available on iTunes, in the US, from today.

2 Responses to “‘Altitude’ VOD Review”

  • Kat

    Well, I have to say, I’m actually very glad I didn’t listen to your review and skip this one. I just finished watching it and I liked the movie quite a bit. Actually I thought it was a great deal of fun. Maybe my expectations were lower going in, but I don’t think that was why I enjoyed it so much. Firstly, I have to say I completely disagree about the look of the film. Its pretty obvious the movie didn’t have a large budget, but I have to say I thought they did a really nice job of giving the film an interesting and edgy look that never let the limited setting feel stale or boring. I don’t really see the comparisons to Instagram at all. And actually, I just watched Red Eye earlier this week and that film wasn’t shot nearly as interestingly, and furthermore that plane’s setting got very old very quick. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Red Eye, but for a movie like this which obviously had a much lower budget than Red Eye, I have to give credit to the filmmakers for making the setting feel polished but edgy and never letting it get boring. I wouldn’t so much say it was shot like a horror film, though I see where you’re coming from on that. For me the look and style felt more like a Wong Kar Wai grittiness which I thought was effective. Actually, I really appreciated the sense of adventure and fun this film accomplished. They did quite a lot with what I imagine were very limited resources. I was invested in the characters, and the chemistry of all the leads, especially Terry (Kirk Barker) who for someone I’ve never heard of before, definitely felt like he had some star charisma shining through. I watch a lot of action films, and often I find that I don’t care about anyone in the movie, and because I don’t, its very hard to invest in the action which far too often feels over-stylized, way too CGI, shot like a commercial from some God like pedestal. Cameras fly around at lightning speed like in some video game and nothing feels real at all so its hard to get excited about it or feel tension. The filmmakers in those films spend so little time investing in their own characters and then expect the VFX houses to save the day. Its like a bad piece of meat with tons of sauce on it to hide the fact that flavor’s no good. This just felt like a film that knew its budgetary limitations well and then exceeded them. It never took itself too seriously while at the same time never turning the film into too much of a joke. I appreciated that balance a lot. And it felt like the filmmakers and the actors really invested in the characters, (I’m guessing because they had to invest in them knowing they wouldn’t be able to rely on their FX team to save the day). In that respect, it almost reminded me of the fun action films I loved in the 80s and 90s back when you couldn’t make everything CGI. Back when they HAD to rely on their characters and humor to make the stunts and the action more fun to watch. Movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and even later movies like Speed and True Lies. All of which clearly had a much larger budget than this film, and I wouldn’t say this film is in the same category as those ones, but they felt cut from the same clothe and I have to say I really just loved the ride here. And I absolutely LOOOOOOOVED that this was a female driven action film that never felt like it was trying to sexualize the women in any way. In fact, I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie like this before from that regard. I’m trying to think of any film I’ve ever seen that’s set in this extraordinarily male dominated genre that had not one but two ass kicking female leads as strong as these ones who didn’t also at some point in the film have to sell sex in one way or another or take a backseat to their male counterpart. Its just a very rare thing to see and I commend the filmmakers for passing the Jane test on this one. I would highly recommend to any action fans who are uninspired by today’s way too CGI happy action movies and crave a bit of that 80s/90s action nostalgia, and also want to see some awesome ass kicking female characters that they give this one a chance. Its not perfect, but its a helluva lot of fun. And I’m sorry, but its absolutely better than Non Stop and Passenger 57…and Flight Plan. Those movies just end up taking themselves way too seriously and become so monotonous. I wouldn’t go so far as to say its as good as Speed or Die Hard or Lethal Weapon (nor would I have expected it to come anywhere close costing probably a fraction of those films’ catering budgets)…but its a surprisingly damn fun film that just seemed to have no business being as good as it turned out to be and its so nice to see something that harkens back to that sense of nostalgic adventure that can only happen when you like the characters. One more point, I surprisingly loved some of the music in the film which wasn’t afraid to be bold or thematic. Its too bad you didn’t have as much fun with this as I did. I feel like maybe you missed out on a good time but who knows, maybe I just wanted to like it more :) whatever the case, I have to say it definitely seemed a lot smarter and better than you gave it credit for. (Also, I was surprised you said it was so dark, it wasn’t dark on my TV at all, although I’m sure we our settings are calibrated very differently). Did notice the flares you pointed out, though, haha. Definitely lots of flares :))

    • Lulp Dongrehn

      Soooo… you were in this piece of shit movie right?
      It sucked and not in a good way!