review: snakes on a plane
August 18, 2006
It’s crude. It’s gory. It gleefully travels well beyond traditional standards of decency. But it’s also……..quite a lot of fun, the most, in fact, you’re likely to have at a cinema this year. You’ve seen the trailers, the interviews, and the fan-made t-shirts; now brace yourself for the silliest motion picture in recent memory: director David Ellis’ Snakes on a Plane, an action/horror/comedy film best viewed in the company of friends, or at least with an audience whose level of excitement for the film defies all logic and reason, as it was at the screening I attended.
Star Samuel L. Jackson has unabashedly embraced his charge of promoting the film, appearing on talk shows and even lending his voice to a website allowing personalized exhortations to be sent to “friends.” And to think, he signed on without even reading the script. That unbridled enthusiasm is clearly evident in the product itself; he delivers each line–and he has all the best ones–with an incredulous conviction that I couldn’t help but chortle (and holler) at, over and over again. The other actors are all on board as well, with standouts including Julianna Margulies’ spunky flight attendant and Rachel Blanchard’s spoiled, chihuahua-toting heiress. There are few jokes qua jokes, but with a title and premise such as this film has and a score so melodramatic you might think this was a soap opera–we have composer Trevor Rabin to thank for that–humor is never far below the surface of any scene herein.
Passengers and flight crew alike are all disposable once the carnage begins, and Jackson’s FBI agent character, Nelville Flynn, is the only man who can stop tough-guy mobster Eddie Kim’s (Byron Lawson) sinister plot to keep surfer kid Sean (Nathan Phillips) from testifying against him by unleashing a deadly crate of snakes on the unsuspecting members of Pacific Air Flight 121. Yes, there is a plot behind all the ridiculously graphic mayhem. Agents on the ground race to find anti-venom needed by wounded victims, and petty squabbles (and even a dash of “romance”) among passengers give us something to look at until the next “snake vision” sequence or one-line zinger from Jackson. Motherf*#$!ng snakes, indeed.
Apparently, many real snakes were used in the film, but if so I certainly couldn’t find them. Instead, we’re treated to frequent close-ups of astonishingly poor computer-generated approximations. Not that it really matters with a film like this; we laugh at everything else, so cheesy graphics are just another on a long list of painfully funny-unfunny attributes that this film shows off like so many gaudy bangles on the wrist. These digital concoctions even manage to be genuinely frightening at times: I defy you not to gasp when one latches onto that unfortunate woman’s eyeball or cheer when one jumps out at Jackson only to be torched by his flamethrower-in-a-can.
I wrote several days ago of this movie that it would either be “so bad it’s good” or just “so bad”. Having seen it now and reveled in its glorious stupidity, I place it firmly in the former category. The difference between Snakes on a Plane and the countless other B-grade films that are released each year is that this one knows it’s bad. It’s difficult to find even one thing worth criticizing here, with every “flaw” serving only to enhance the campiness of it all. Know that going in, and you’ll have a ball. All we can do now is wait for the inevitable sequel (assuming reasonable financial success, that is). How does Snakes in Space sound? It’s catchy, it’s different, and we can bring Jackson back to, uh, finish the job.
Note: If you’re looking for more reviews, perhaps some written by actual professionals, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. Perhaps anticipating poor critical reception, the filmmakers decided against holding the traditional pre-release screenings for the press. The ugly truth should be out there by Saturday, however.
–D. S. W.