Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David R. Ellis

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Rachel Blanchard, Flex Alexander, Kenan Thompson, Sunny Mabrey

MPAA Rating:   (for language, a scene of sexuality and drug use, and intense sequences of terror and violence)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 8/18/06

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Review by Mark Dujsik

It has a great title. It has Samuel L. Jackson. It has a plane. It has snakes. It is Snakes on a Plane, and it is one of the strangest cases of a movie receiving such tremendous pre-release hype I can remember. The hype is primarily for all the factoids I listed above, and in an even odder development, the movie actually delivers on its hype. Yes, it's cheesy, and yes, it has enough clichés to fill up three screenwriting workshops, but what on earth would you expect otherwise? Wouldn't it be the most disappointing thing you could imagine if a movie called Snakes on a Plane was a thorough exploration of airline security with all the elements of a detailed character study on the side? Movies like this are rare. They appeal to our basest desire for cheap thrills; they know they're bad and make absolutely no apologies or concessions. The only thing slightly original about the movie is its concept, and even that was done in a movie called Tail Sting with mutant scorpions on a plane (I was unfortunate enough to miss that one) and a "Saturday Night Live" sketch that gave me nightmares. Otherwise, this is the stuff of direct-to-video trash, but what fun trash this is.

Even though the title is basically a plot summary, there is a little more to the story. In Hawaii, Sean (Nathan Phillips) is cycling around when he accidentally comes upon a man strung up by his ankles. The man is a district attorney at the mercy of the merciless Eddie Kim (Bryon Lawson), a notorious crime boss on the islands. Sean witnesses Kim kill the man and rides off before being caught. While sitting in his house, he hears a strange noise, looks out his peephole, and sees three men with guns breaking into his house. He runs out to the balcony only to be met by FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson), who conveniently shows up just when he's needed (someone must have lit the B.A.M.F. signal). After a very brief firefight, Flynn takes Sean back to headquarters where he convinces Sean to testify against Kim in Los Angeles. Upon discovering at the last possible moment which plane Sean will be on, Kim sets his plan in motion. Kim's plan to assassinate Sean involves, well, take a wild guess.

If you want further evidence as to the tone of the movie, note that Kim says that his decision to kill the potential witness against him with poisonous snakes on the plane said witness is on came after he had exhausted all other options. Something tells me there was probably a simpler, less extravagant alternative he may have overlooked. Anyway, since the plane is flying out of Honolulu, the plan involves spraying down the leis the passengers receive while boarding with snake pheromones (good old generic snake pheromones). Then a red digital readout counts down the time until the container holding all the venomous snakes bursts, letting them to their own devices. There has never been any logic to red digital readouts on bombs in movies, but the logic here I suppose is so the audience can count down the seconds until the movie really begins. For anyone interested in counting the numerous, seemingly endless clichés the script has in store, the movie has already begun tenfold. Beyond the fact that the evil Asian crime lord does martial arts (an element unfortunately missing in the movie's climax), the plane is crewed by an older, experienced pilot, a middle-aged sexist co-pilot, and not one but two stewardesses who are approaching retirement.

In fact, Claire (Julianna Margulies), the eventual female somewhat-heroine, is on her last flight. The rest of the passenger list reads like a checklist of formulaic types necessary for any disaster thriller. Newly married couple? Check. Two young kids flying on their own for the first time? Check. Young mother with baby? Check. Stuffy British passenger? Check and mate. Have I mentioned yet that the first people to die at the sharp, pointy teeth of the snakes are the two who go off to have sex and smoke pot in the bathroom? There's also another scene in a bathroom with a man using the facilities, unaware that a snake is slowly slithering its way up the toilet. That scene will surely make every man who ever sees the movie involuntarily cross his legs. The snake attacks are appropriately gruesome, and the special effects that create them would be considered low-grade in the mid-1990s. There's also a subplot involving the foremost poisonous snake expert trying to find anti-venom that was obviously shot by the second unit director, complete with really cheap digital cinematography. Certain things have to happen on the plane in thrillers like this, and they all do. The hull is breached sending things flying out, and someone with only minimal flying experience has to make an emergency landing.

At one point, Claire, with all earnestness, asks if anyone knows how to fly a plane, and it's just right in a movie where you expect Leslie Nielsen to walk into the cockpit and say, "Good luck. We're all counting on you." Jackson is just right for the material, keeping a straight face and letting the screenplay's unintentional (and surprisingly effective intentional) humor do most of the work. Pauline Kael was on the right track but a bit off in her observation. It is also extremely rare for a movie to work as great trash, so we should appreciate good trash like Snakes on a Plane.

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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