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Behind the scenes of ''Passenger 57''

Behind the scenes of ”Passenger 57” — A look at Wesley Snipes’ high jinx on the set of his new thriller

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THE SCENE: Disney MGM Studios in Orlando, Fla., where Wesley Snipes, playing U.S. antiterrorist expert John Cutter, disarms a jet hijacker by jamming the guy’s head into the lavatory toilet with such force that it sends the back of the set — the interior of an actual L-1011 jet — rocking on its wooden supports. By the 10th take things have gotten bloody. Within minutes a nurse is administering a Flintstones bandage to the actor’s finger and inquiring what happened. ”An extra said he didn’t like Jungle Fever,” jokes Snipes, who, truth to tell, nicked himself on his own watch.

THE MOVIE: Warner’s Passenger 57, opening Nov. 6, whose concept can best be described as Die Hard 38,000 — feet in the air, that is.

THE BUZZ: The notion of a Snipes-driven Die Hard set 38,000 feet in the air is making for some very good word of mouth.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: Stoking the fire from his star turns in New Jack City and White Men Can’t Jump, Snipes, 30, is getting a chance to muscle in on the testosterone territory dominated by Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal and become the black action hero of the ’90s. ”It’s not like Cutter’s just saving a couple of brothers and sisters from the ‘hood,” says Snipes, who, in the film, is finally able to show off eight years of martial-arts training. ”You rarely see a black man with a gun shooting white people for the good of society.”

THE DIFFICULTIES: A limited $15 million budget and disagreements over things like scheduling and camera angles make for some friction between Snipes and director Kevin Hooks (Strictly Business). ”It can be a little rocky, both of us starting out in a new genre,” admits Snipes, digging into the soul-food lunch his mother and grandmother, who both live in Orlando, have cooked that day for the entire cast and crew. ”But we found a way to maintain a sense of creative camaraderie.” Adds Hooks, ”The dialogue is not going to keep you nailed to your seat. It’s the interplay between what the characters see and don’t see, and keeping the frame filled with faces, that keeps the tension.”

THE PROGNOSIS: Snipes knows that if Passenger 57 flies, it will boost his already soaring career into orbit, but he doesn’t seem awed by the prospect. According to his maternal grandmother, Ruth Dukes, who stands on the set beaming, Snipes has always had this preternatural confidence. ”When he was a year and a half old,” she recalls, laughing, ”he kicked the door and yelled, ‘Open the damn door!”’ He hasn’t lost his touch.