Reel Opinions

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

Who knew that the most fun I would have at the movies this year would come in the form of Samuel L. Jackson battling vicious snakes on a commercial airliner? Certainly not I. I love it when a movie takes me by surprise and just gets me completely wrapped up in the experience. And Snakes on a Plane is definitely a most pleasant surprise. Forget the massive amount of Internet fan hype that has been building up the past year, and forget the fact that the plot is ludicrous. This is the best example of "thrill ride" movie making I have seen in a long time. It's exciting, it's fast paced, it's thrilling, and it's even funny at times. For pure check your brain at the door entertainment, you can't do much better than this.

When a young man named Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) happens to witness vicious Asian crimelord Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) murdering an innocent man, it's up to FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) to protect him when Kim's goons start coming after Sean. It would seem that Sean's only choice is to testify in court about what he saw, and the only way he can do that is to make a flight from Hawaii to LA under the personal care of Neville to make sure that Sean arrives at the courthouse safely. Unknown to the unsuspecting passengers and crew of the flight, Kim has smuggled aboard a time release box filled with poisonous snakes from all corners of the world. When the snakes are unleashed, they instantly set about destroying everything and everyone in sight under the influence of a chemical that makes them unnaturally aggressive. With the life of everyone on board in great danger, Neville must find a way to take the situation under control, keep Sean alive, and keep the plane flying to its destination.

While no one will certainly mistake it for art, Snakes on a Plane is so tremendously enjoyable, you really won't have time to care. Director David R. Ellis (Cellular) and screenwriters Sebastian Gutierrez and John Heffernan know how to walk that thin line between intentionally cheesy and all out camp, so that we are laughing with the movie and not at it. The first half hour is devoted to setting up the characters, and introduces us to the large variety of colorful characters that we will be spending the next hour and 40 minutes with, including everyone from a germaphobic rap star to a resourceful flight attendant (Julianna Margulies) who is taking her final flight for the airline before she moves onto another job. After that, all bets are off. As soon as the time release box holding the snakes is opened, the movie picks up speed and never lets up. It's almost amazing how the film knows how to make the best out of its confined environments without making the movie seem repetitive. The movie does this by presenting various problems and situations that keep on arising throughout the film. And yet, the movie never seems gimmicky or desperate. The movie creates plausible tension, and knows how to keep us nearly breathless as events unfold. Despite how silly the premise may sound in the above synopsis, the film treats it mostly seriously, with only some one-liners (which are actually funny for a change) or over the top gore scenes (I dare you not to shake your head and laugh at the outcome of the guy who finds a snake in the toilet.) to help lighten the mood.

And then there are the snakes themselves. Using a wide variety of different species and sizes (including one so large I almost can't believe that it's for real), the movie effectively creeps us out with a parade of the slithery serpents that seem to start coming out of the walls. These snakes are not played for laughs, nor are they given any personalities (thank God). They are single-minded killing machines that pounce and strike, and even turn on each other from time to time. They are portrayed in a somewhat realistic light, which I appreciated. They don't do anything that I find hard to believe that a snake doped up on aggressive drugs could pull off. More so than the snakes themselves, it is their accompanying attack scenes that make them so memorable. In a year filled with watered down PG-13 horror films, it's wonderful to see a movie like Snakes on a Plane depict the outcome of its victims in such hilariously over the top detail. Actually, the film was originally targeted for a more family friendly rating, but the filmmakers wisely decided to do some reshoots and bump the film up to a hard R-rating. Definitely a good decision this time around, as I don't think the film would be half as much fun in its original format. For anyone who grew up on the over the top horror films of the 80s, and have been lamenting the removal of all fun from recent entries in the genre, you will welcome this film with open arms.

Usually in a movie like this, the cast and characters are a mere second thought. While I certainly wouldn't call any of the characters in this movie developed or well-written, there are a number of surprisingly likeable characters in this movie, and not one single one got on my nerves, which really came as a surprise to me. Did anyone ever have any doubt that Samuel L. Jackson could carry a movie like this? If anyone did, they will be proven wrong. Jackson not only comes across as a great badass hero for this film, but his performance is immensely likeable. Sure, the role is not exactly deep, but Jackson makes the most out of it, and he delivers his one liners and dialogue with tremendous glee that carries out onto the audience. Julianna Magulies is a strong female lead, and it's certainly nice to see a female lead that does not end up as a love interest for the hero for a change. Also notable is Lin Shaye as an elderly flight attendant who gets a couple good scenes as she tries to keep the passengers safe, and is warm and winning in her performance. The passengers are mainly a faceless and personality-deprived collection of screamers and future snake victims, but there are a couple stand outs, chief amongst them Rachel Blanchard who is surprisingly funny and sympathetic as pampered rich girl passenger Mercedes.

While I was watching this film, I was reminded of another horror film that tried to combine thrills and laughs that came out in April called Slither. I wasn't very fond of that movie, as I felt it took too long to get to where it was going, and it wasn't very funny either. Snakes on a Plane does everything right that the previous film just couldn't grasp. It gives the audience exactly what they want, and it's entertaining to boot. I certainly wasn't expecting much walking in, but I wound up leaving the theater with a goofy grin on my face and laughing to myself as I thought back on certain scenes. That's the best kind of impression a movie like this can leave on its audience. While it probably won't earn a place on my "Best of the Year" list, if anyone ever asks me what movie entertained me the most, I will most likely say Snakes on a Plane.

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  • Great review!

    I plan on seeing Snakes on a Plane next week, and now I can see it knowing it's as good as we've hoped.

    I have a feeling that Snakes is going to be the running gag of the Academy Awards this year.

    By Blogger SirCraven, at 9:19 PM  

  • Excellent review, couldn't agree more.

    As one who scoured the shelves of my local video store or just this type of entertainment when I was a kid it's nice to see such a fun flick like this in the theater. Just to bad it's not getting the box office it deserves.

    By Blogger Movie Mike, at 8:46 AM  

  • Great review. While the previews had me hopeful, honestly I didn't expect much, and was pleasently surprised, shocked actually, at how good it was.

    The mediocre box office is disapointing, but its destined to be a cult classic on DVD.

    By Blogger Eric45, at 7:39 PM  

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