Although “Mayday” is based on a bestselling novel, it’s hard to escape the distracting sense that it feels like a sober-minded update of “Airplane!,” what with a weekend pilot and attractive stewardess forced to land a wounded plane filled with incapacitated passengers. Sending this earnest, slickly produced and more than a little silly nondescript potboiler out to do battle with “Desperate Housewives” sounds like a suicide mission.
After bidding farewell to his son, John Berry (Aidan Quinn) boards a super-duper jumbo jet that has the bad luck to be mistaken for a military drone during a super-secret naval exercise. Ka-boom, and an unarmed missile rips straight through the hull, sending passengers flying out the gaping hole before the plane levels off, albeit with most everyone left dead or in a deep state of unconsciousness.
Quinn’s character and stewardess Sharon (Kelly Hu) thus face the daunting task of trying to bring the jet in, while the gung-ho commander behind the military foul-up (Dean Cain) and his snarling boss (Charles S. Dutton) debate ways to hide the damage, which may include shooting down the wounded bird. When that threat begins to dissipate, enter Gail O’Grady (quite late in the movie) as a callous insurance exec who proposes scuttling the plane to mitigate payouts that may bankrupt her outfit as well as the airline.
Director T.J. Scott adapted the book with Kevin Lund and does what he can to keep things moving, but there’s relatively little suspense and even less character development. Perhaps the intrigue worked better on paper, but squeezed into 88 minutes or so, it’s almost comical how everyone keeps conspiring to bring the damn plane down after blasting a hole in it the size of a Hummer.
CBS has gone a little edgier with its movies since “Housewives” siphoned away much of the available female audience, but this brand of economy-class disaster would struggle to stay airborne under the best of circumstances. If the actors mostly eschew going into auto-pilot mode, there’s only so much anybody can do with furrowed brows and dialogue that makes you wonder when George Kennedy is going to turn up.
So tell the truth, CBS: Do you really expect this kind of flight to hold its own against ABC’s Sunday lineup?
Surely, you can’t be serious.