The jet-plane thriller "7500" shifts from "Die Hard"-style fun to big-time bummer with supersonic speed.
It starts out really well. The sort of international thriller that got made a lot in the 1970s, it features an American star (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) with an otherwise non-American cast, speaking multiple languages, and the thrills begin almost immediately. No sooner has the flight gotten off the ground than the crew is fighting off an attack from the cabin. A passenger forces his way into the cockpit, critically injuring the captain. Only co-pilot Tobias Ellis' (Gordon-Levitt) quick thinking and suspicious command of mixed martial arts keeps the intruder and his fellow miscreants from crashing the plane.
Director Patrick Vollrath, whose German-language short "Everything Will Be Okay" was an Oscar nominee a few years ago, makes the first 30 minutes of "7500" brisk and exciting. The cockpit, where the entire movie takes place, is a tricky setting, since it's both cramped and dark, but Vollrath makes sure we always know exactly how the characters relate to each other in the space and that we know what they want at any given moment.
Gordon-Levitt already has proved himself as the lead in a paranoid thriller — the underrated "Looper" — and he's just as good here as a hero whose strengths are calm and kindness. While trying to find somewhere safe to land, Tobias spends a lot of time checking a monitor that shows him what's going on in the cabin of the plane, where the conspirators are wreaking havoc. That has the effect of increasing our identification with him (we're both watching screens) and underscoring how powerless he is to alter the horrifying course of events he's in the middle of.
The issue is the terrorists, who are Muslim for no good reason other than to reinforce stereotypes that the movie business has perpetuated for decades. Other than their names, we know virtually nothing about the men or their faith, which leaves the movie with the grotesque and damaging conclusion that Muslim equals terrorist.
When Tobias attempts to understand the motivations of the most hesitant of the hijackers, there was a moment when I thought "7500" was moving in an unexpected direction. But the moment passed, and "7500" ends pretty much how you'd assume it would, although with a somber tone rather than "Die Hard" triumph. It's a destination "7500" could just as easily have arrived at with any group of violent extremists.
On a craft level, "7500" is impressive. I'd bet money that as soon as movie production is up and running again, Vollrath will be signed to direct Chris Pratt or Dwayne Johnson in something that involves tense people trying to head off a big explosion. But let's hope he doesn't write that explosive movie. Because the "7500" script, by Vollrath and Senad Halilbasic, leaves a bad taste in your mouth that no 32-ounce Diet Coke will erase.