ON A PLANE (2006)
Director: David R. Ellis
All the way back in 1999, a little film titled The Blair Witch Project entered into the public consciousness. It amassed a sizeable cult following even before its release via its website, and thanks to the vast word-of-mouth that it garnered, The Blair Witch Project became one of the highest grossing and most parodied movies of the year. Seven years later, New Line Cinema attempted to duplicate that success with their high concept movie Snakes on a Plane. And oh boy, did Snakes on a Plane take off. Even before the movie was released, its title alone brought the movie all kinds of recognition online, from websites selling T-shirts and other trinkets bearing the movie's name, to dozens of blogs following the production's progress, to homemade parodies and music videos on YouTube. If you were online at any point during 2006, you'd probably heard of Snakes on a Plane. The movie's strong online following even convinced the filmmakers to do a week's worth of reshoots to earn the movie an R-rating and incorporate material from the more popular parodies. The movie had all the makings of a modern cult classic before it was even released, but was it worth it? Let's find out.
After he witnesses powerful mobster Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) brutally murder a prosecutor, Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) is convinced by FBI agents Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Sanders (Mark Houghton) to testify against Kim at his trial in Los Angeles. The three take a red eye flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, taking over the entire first class section for extra security, much to the chagrin of the various passengers that are bumped down to coach to accommodate them. But despite all precautions, Kim has managed to get time-released crates loaded with venomous snakes into the plane's cargo hold. And just to make sure that the snakes are going to be extra vicious, the leis given to the passengers during boarding have been secretly sprayed with pheromones to make them more aggressive. The crate opens up 30,000 feet in the air, and those not killed by the snakes are forced to band together to survive and get to their destination safely.
Snakes on a Plane is one of those movies that are absolutely critic-proof. It doesn't really matter what Roger Ebert or Leonard Maltin or any other reviewer thinks about this movie, since the title alone is enough to form one's opinion of it before you plunk down the money to watch it. Just read the title. Come on, read it. "Snakes on a Plane." Just reading that alone, you're either going to believe that this is a laughably ludicrous concept and skip it, or something that you're going to want to watch and have a fun time doing so. The movie is an unabashed attempt at making a mainstream B-movie, and it never once hides the fact that it is what it is. Most movies try to be profound or heartwarming or some other kind of artsy-fartsy crap, but Snakes on a Plane remembers that a movie should be first and foremost entertaining. And I believe it succeeds.
With Final Destination 2 on his résumé, director David R. Ellis is no stranger to this kind of outrageous mayhem. And while I don't believe his work here will win any awards, it's certainly competent and effective on more than one occasion. Ellis, teaming with cinematographer Adam Greenberg, does what he can to make the movie look as exciting as possible in spite of the cramped sets. While the editing perhaps isn't as tight as it could have been, there's great camera angles and movements, and I liked the fun "SnakeVision" point-of-view shots. Ellis thankfully does not overuse the SnakeVision gimmick, but their appearances do flow perfectly with the tone the movie sets. Ellis's direction is enhanced by Trevor Rabin's score, which is never distracting, but suits the movie perfectly.
And then there's the script. Penned by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez, the script hits pretty much every action movie standard it possibly can while still managing to be extremely entertaining. It is amazing how much Heffernan and Gutierrez's screenplay accomplishes with so little. I mean, that's possibly the shortest plot synopsis I've ever written. If you expected a longer one, you've misunderstood the simplicity of the movie. Really, the title is all you need to know. There are snakes on a plane. In fact, that synopsis is probably longer than it could have been. It could have been just one sentence. Maybe something like, "Sam Jackson fights snakes on a plane." That sums up the whole thing, doesn't it? With that in mind, it doesn't really matter that the movie is full of clichés and silly dialogue, or that the characters are generic stock characters, because the script takes those potential problems and makes them fun to watch.
Last but not least, there's the cast. None of them take it all that seriously, which makes the movie that much better. And I'm going to come right out and say it: the only member of the cast that matters is Samuel L. Jackson. Really, he's the only one worth talking about. While Nathan Phillips and Julianna Marguiles are acceptable, and Kenan Thompson and Rick Koechner are extremely funny, none of them are as awesome as Jackson. You can look at him and tell he's having the absolute time of his life. He's readily admitted in the past that he only agreed to do the movie because he liked the title (even threatening to quit if they changed it), but he takes the material and runs with it. Jackson is a total bad-ass here, dropping F-bombs and zapping snakes with a stun gun like he was king of the world. Anyone in need of proof regarding just how awesome Samuel L. Jackson only needs to rent Snakes on a Plane. He IS this movie.
This combination of aviophobia and opidiophobia or as one online reviewer succinctly put it, this blend of Anaconda and Passenger 57 makes for a movie that has to be one of the most entertaining films of 2006. Snakes on a Plane might not have been the biggest hit it could have been, especially with all the hype. But I do think that the movie's target audience will turn it into a bona fide cult classic with time. With a name like that, it's inevitable. The cast and crew obviously had fun making the movie, and as long as you're not deathly afraid of CGI snakes, I think you'll have fun watching it. Snakes on a Plane gets three and a half stars, leaning towards four. Now it's time to bring on more "animals on transportation" movies.
Final Rating: ***½