Perhaps it’s a sign that I’ve spent too many years exploring the dark recesses of ’70s cinema, but the only way I can classify Skyjacked is to label it the second-best ’70s movie about Charlton Heston rescuing an out-of-control airplane. For while Skyjacked has a few entertainingly campy scenes, the picture can’t hold a kitschy candle to the wonderfully awful Airport 1975. The fact that I can draw such distinctions should indicate how high my tolerance is for so-bad-it’s-good ’70s trash, and it should also tell you to avoid Skyjacked at all costs if your tolerance is lower than mine.
As the title suggests, this flick is a numbingly simplistic thriller about a nutty Vietnam vet hijacking a passenger plane in a storyline that brainlessly follows the standard disaster-movie playbook. Square-jawed Heston stars as manly-man pilot Captain Henry “Hank” O’Hara, who has to protect his passengers from the heavily armed shenanigans of tweaked ex-soldier Jerome Weber (James Brolin). The hijacker’s motivation has something to do with wanting to defect to Russia, but it’s not as if one expects this movie to go deep into characterization. A typically random assortment of actors gets caught in the crossfire, including Claude Akins, Susan Dey, Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, Mariette Hartley, Yvette Mimieux, Walter Pidgeon, and Leslie Uggams, none of whom should consider this a high point in their screen careers.
Despite the presence of capable pulp director John Guillermin behind the camera, Skyjacked is so generic that it’s almost undistinguishable from several other made-for-TV and theatrical features about the same subject matter—in fact, it’s especially easy to get Skyjacked mixed up with the carbon-copy telefilm Mayday at 40,000 Feet (1976), featuring David Janssen’s clenched teeth in place of Heston’s rigidly hinged pearly whites. The problem is that instead of going overboard with ludicrous characters and situations, Skyjacked is quite dull for most of its running time. The movie doesn’t come alive until the silly climax, when Brolin and Heston physically fight for control of the plane; Brolin is so screamingly awful, and Heston so outrageously overwrought, that the movie briefly enters bad-movie bliss. But even with that fleeting moment of amusement, Skyjacked is merely a footnote to a subgenre that never produced much in the way of meritorious cinema.