Snakes on a Plane Review
By Shawn McKenzie 08/26/2006
The tale begins in O’ahu, Hawaii’s Kaena Point State Park, where Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips), a surfer and off-road biker, is driving through the island on his bike on his way home from the beach. While stopping off for a second on a bridge, a severely beaten man falls from the bridge and freaks Sean out. The man is a L.A. prosecutor named Daniel Hayes (Scott Nicholson), who is the person in charge of bringing to court a notorious mobster named Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson.) He tells Sean to hide, and Sean watches in horror while Kim and his thugs beat Hayes to death. Sean runs when he is spotted, and he manages to escape. Not long after, while back in his apartment, he watches a television report about Kim. Coincidentally, Kim and his thugs break into Sean’s apartment. While hiding on his patio, Sean is rescued by FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson), who tells Sean, “Do as I say and you’ll live.” Flynn brings Sean back to the Honolulu FBI headquarters, where he and his partner John Sanders (Mark Houghton) convince Sean to testify against Kim in L.A. They don’t take the government jet as expected, because it is thought that the police in Honolulu are corrupt, so Flynn and Sanders commandeer the first-class cabin of commercial airliner South Pacific Air 121 to take Sean to L.A. and order everyone to be kept out of the cabin for security reasons. This frustrates the crew, because it means that they have to tell the passengers…including the ones holding first class tickets…that they have to sit in coach with everyone else. The unfortunate crew members that have to break the news are flight attendants Claire Miller (Julianna Margulies), who just wants to enjoy her last flight before becoming a lawyer; Tiffany (Sunny Mabrey), who is very flirtatious; Ken (Bruce James), who is effeminate, but actually has a girlfriend (Lisa Marie Caruk); and Grace (Lin Shaye), who is the veteran flight attendant. The first class passengers who receive the bad news are socialite Mercedes Harbont (Rachel Blanchard) and her pet Chihuahua Mary Kate; rapper Three G’s (Flex Alexander), who doesn’t like being touched; G’s bodyguards Troy (Kenan Thompson), who loves his Sony PSP, and Big Leroy (Keith “Blackman” Dallas); and a stuffy rude Englishman named Paul (Gerard Plunkett.) The “poor” people that the first class passengers have to ride with include young brothers Curtis (Casey Dubois) and Tommy (Daniel Hogarth) who are traveling by themselves for the first time; single mother Maria (Elsa Pataky) and her baby; honeymooning couple Ashley (Emily Holmes) and her hypochondriac new husband Tyler (Tygh Runyan); martial artist Chen Leong (Terry Chen), who never does any martial arts in the movie; Mrs. Bova (Ann Warn Pegg), who dresses in a muumuu and drinks from a flask; and others. In addition to having to handle the complaints of the first class passengers, Claire has to deal with the sexist comments of copilot Rick (David Koechner.) Kim finds out what plane they are actually on and orders a man named Kraitler (Darren Moore) to spray pheromones onto the complimentary leis handed out to passengers boarding the plane. The pheromones are supposed to make a crate of poisonous deadly snakes, smuggled onboard in a crate, crazy. The crate is attached with a timer, and as soon as the timer hits zero, the crates open and the snakes begin killing everything they can. The first victim is a cat who is in the same cargo hold as the snakes’ crate. They then attack horny couple Kyle (Taylor Kitsch) and Kelly (Samantha McLeod), who have gone into one of the restrooms to smoke a joint and join “The Mile High Club.” The next victim is a guy who has used the restroom for its intended purpose (it unfortunately crawls out of the toilet as bites him on his…well…you know where.) After that, they manage to kill the pilot, Captain Sam McKeon (Tom Butler), and Sanders, who had a phobia of snakes. The snakes also short out some of the plane’s electronics, including the air conditioning. Flynn calls desk-bound FBI agent Hank Harris (Bobby Cannavale) to find who smuggled the snakes onboard and to locate a snake expert to identify the species of snakes in order to give the victims the needed anti-venom once they land. Harris finds herpetologist Steven Price (Todd Luiso) to identify the snakes, and he goes after the people who he obviously knows are tied to Kim. With the plane now being closer to L.A. than Hawaii, the passengers must do what they can to survive.
Snakes on a Plane may have been the Blair Witch Project of 2006, but New Line messed up royally. The movie went to number one in its first weekend (if you count the numbers from its Thursday night preview showings), but its box office result was $15.2 million…$5 million below studio expectations. It’s a shame, because the movie wasn’t that bad (despite their intention to make it purposely bad.)
The studio made the mistake of assuming that its huge Internet interest would make the movie a hit. They wanted the ticket-paying audiences to be the first ones to see the movie. First…they announced that there would be no preview screenings for early public audiences or for critics. Their reasoning is that they didn’t want critics to taint the movie with their bad reviews, since they figured critics would never enjoy a campy horror movie whose plotline can be summed up in its title. Ironically, once critics saw the movie, it received a 70% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer (as of this writing.) Also, the TV ads didn’t really help educate a TV audience who aren’t necessarily familiar with the Internet stuff. The geeks (like me) knew when the movie came out and what it was about, but movie “civilians” didn’t know any of that. One other final reason why it may have possibly made some moviegoers stay away is that it combined two big phobias for many people…snakes and flying. Since I don’t have a phobia of either, I wasn’t affected.
If you compare the movie to other movies that are so much worse, you will appreciate how good it is. Take for instance Snakes on a Train. This direct-to-DVD abomination was released three days before Plane. The Asylum…a studio that specializes on quickie low-budget rip-offs of current big budget theatrical films…created Train. In the past, they have done rip-offs of some big Hollywood productions…some that were released before or not long after the original. They include H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds (War of the Worlds), King of the Lost World (King Kong), When a Killer Calls (When a Stranger Calls), 666: The Child (The Omen), The Da Vinci Treasure (The Da Vinci Code), and Pirates of Treasure Island (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.) When I found out about Train, I had to check it out to compare it to the original (don’t worry…I will get to the review of the far superior original in a second.) The acting, the special effects, and the production values were so bad that I think that Ed Wood would have been ashamed. I will most likely compare the two movies to prove a point about how Plane is so much better.
The acting in Plane was actual acting, instead of Train’s cue card deliveries. While I loved some of the familiar faces that I have enjoyed in the past, like Margulies, Thompson, Alexander, and Cannavale, almost everyone will agree with me that this is Jackson’s show (if you don’t think that the snakes themselves are the show.) I can’t imagine this movie being rated PG-13 (the original rating of the movie), because Jackson is R-rated all the way. I know that his famous line…“Enough is enough! I’ve had it with these motherf#%$in’ snakes on this motherf#%$in’ plane!”…was added after overwhelming Internet interest, but it fits so well. Could you imagine the man that played Jules Winnfield from 1994’s Pulp Fiction would be neutered language-wise in a gory film about attack snakes?
Nothing else about the movie, except for some of the special effects, was that bad for a movie with an estimated budget of $33 million. According to the production notes, they used over 400 live snakes representing about 25 different species, including corn snakes, mangrove snakes, milk snakes, rattlesnakes, and king snakes. The ones that stood out though were the CGI created ones…and they tended to look a little fake. After seeing Train, I could appreciate the CGI effects of Plane. There is a scene in both movies where a character is swallowed whole, but even though the scene in Plane looked cooler, both of them were goofy-looking. On the plus side for Plane was that its sets actually looked like the interiors of a plane, whereas the sets for Train looked like they were borrowed from another movie (and they looked like crap.)
Other things about Plane made it better than Train. The script for Plane, written by Sebastian Gutierrez and John Heffernan (from a story by David Dalessandro and Heffernan), makes some sort of ludicrous sense, whereas the script for Train, written by Eric Frosberg, doesn’t make a lick of sense. Both movies contain a gratuitous nude scene, but the scene in Plane has a purpose, whereas the scene in Train doesn’t even have a snake involved. There is one thing that is original in Train though. Both movies contain the obligatory child-in-peril (or children, in Plane), but in Train, the little girl in it is killed off violently, which never happens to kids in horror movies (I don’t get a thrill seeing kids getting fictionally killed…but Train actually managed to show something I’ve never seen before.)
Speaking of horror movies, I’m not sure I’d actually call Plane a “horror movie.” I’d compare it to last year’s high-flying thrillers Red Eye and Flightplan. The director, David R. Ellis, has some experience in directing some very good thrillers. He helmed 2003’s Final Destination 2, a horror movie that I consider the best of the three Destination movies. The effective jump scenes in Plane can probably be attributed to his experience working on FD2. Ellis also did the thriller Phone Booth 2…er, I mean Cellular in 2004, which I really liked. Plane was originally supposed to be directed by Ronny Yu (1998’s Bride of Chucky, 2001’s The 51st State, 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, this year’s upcoming Jet Li’s Fearless), but I think that Ellis was the right choice for this over-the-top production.
While Snakes on a Plane isn’t about to win any awards (except for maybe the Razzies, which I would hope that someone would proudly show up to except if that happens), it is a thrill ride with some fun elements that will entertain audiences. If the news stories about the initial screenings are true, along with its yearlong Internet hype, it could end up being a cult classic. I would highly recommend seeing the movie with a group of friends, so that you can bask in the coolness of Jackson along with the cheesiness of the plot and the effects. As far as Snakes on a Train goes…either convince someone else to fork over the $4.50 rental fee for the DVD, or don’t even bother, because the only way this movie would be enjoyable would be if Comedy Central/Sci-Fi Channel’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000” still existed.
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