Meandering ‘Hijack’ feels like seven hours in the middle seat

Not even the mighty presence of Idris Elba can get the convoluted airline thriller off the ground.

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Sam (Idris Elba) hopes his negotiating skills can protect his fellow passengers from harm in “Hijack.”

Apple TV+

The hijackers in the Apple TV+ limited series “Hijack” are just the worst.

I mean, they’ve hijacked the fictional Kingdom Airlines Flight 29* and they’re terrorizing some 200 passengers and crew onboard — but they’re also among the sloppiest, dumbest and most ill-prepared hijackers in airborne thriller history. From the moment a passenger finds a bullet that was accidentally left behind in a bathroom by one of these dopes through the countless number of passenger uprisings over the duration of the flight (they can’t even convince people to stay in their seats) through a late twist that is almost laughably implausible, you’ve never seen a more disorganized bunch.

Despite the world-class star presence of Idris Elba in the John McClane/“Die Hard” role and some slick and impressive production values, “Hijack” will have you wishing you had a parachute pack by the second or third episode so you could make the jump to freedom.

‘Hijack’

Untitled

A series premiering with two episodes Wednesday on Apple TV+. A new episode will stream each Wednesday through Aug. 2.

Unfolding in real time over the course of its seven-hour run, “Hijack” quickly introduces us to the crew members and passengers on the Dubai-to-London flight who will become key players in the drama, as well as a few folks on the ground, with most of these characters so thinly drawn you’ll be hard-pressed to remember their names.

Our main guy is Elba’s Sam Nelson, who is some kind of vaguely defined, high-end business negotiator. Sam has boarded the flight bearing a gift of jewelry for his estranged wife Marsha (Christine Adams, doing fine work), even though Marsha has told Sam not to come, as she has moved on from their marriage and is in a romantic relationship with a police inspector named, hold on let me check, Daniel, who is played quite well by Max Beesley. (Not that we can blame Sam for holding out hope of a reconciliation; a surprisingly high percentage of action-movie anti-heroes who are separated or divorced from their spouses wind up back together with them, at least for a while, as evidenced by the “Die Hard” and “Taken” movies.)

Almost immediately after the hijackers spring into action, leaping from their seats and waving guns around and telling everyone to sit down and shut up and claiming no one will get hurt if everyone cooperates, Sam is shifting into Negotiator Mode, and this being Idris Elba, we keep wondering if it’s going to turn out Sam is actually an ex-Special Forces operative or Legendary, About-to-Retire Sky Marshal or some such thing, but no, he’s just a business negotiator who believes he can bring that particular set of skills to this tense situation.

Jasper Britton’s Terry, the head honcho hijacker, does his best to appear ruthless and in command, but you wouldn’t believe how often Terry and some of the other gun-toting hijackers are open to hearing Sam’s suggestions for how this whole thing can go smoothly, with no one being hurt. (Spoiler alert: Some people get hurt).

The passengers keep handing each other notes or making excuses to go to the bathroom or trying to tackle the hijackers, who do a truly terrible job of keeping everyone quiet and in their seats, even as the flight makes its way to London, where it will be flown directly into the city if the hijackers’ demands are not met. (It takes a long, long time for the motive behind the hijacking to be revealed, and even then, the true architects of this crime are vaguely defined and rather disposable.)

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Archie Panjabi plays a counter-terrorism expert works on the case on the ground.

Apple TV+

Meanwhile, on the ground, we follow the efforts of counter-terrorism expert Zahar Gahfoor (Archie Panjabi) and regular person air traffic controller Alice Sinclair (Eve Myles), among others, to figure out a way to land the flight safely, with all souls onboard still alive.

The performances in “Hijack” are earnest and sound, even though some members of the excellent ensemble are stuck playing one-note caricatures. This is also an exceedingly well-edited show, moving nimbly from the claustrophobic chaos of the flight to the mad scramble on the ground to save the day. Idris Elba is a monumentally arresting presence and he makes sure the proceedings are never dull — but I’m not sure any actor could rescue this meandering, convoluted storyline.

* It’s always a fictional airline and flight number, whether it’s Oceanic Flight 815 in “Lost” or Atlantic International Airlines Flight 163 in “Passenger 57” or South Pacific Airlines Flight 121 in “Snakes on a Plane” or Windsor Airlines Flight 114 in “Die Hard 2.” What real airline is going to lend its brand to a series or movie where crazy, dangerous stuff happens on a plane?

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