Snakes On A Plane

Hate flying? Hate snakes? Federal Agent Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) sure does, and he wants the slimy reptiles off his damn plane. Flynn doesn’t exactly use those words, but no one cusses better than Samuel L. Jackson, so I won’ t even try.

After forty minutes of being trapped with Snakes on a Plane, the writers stop trying, repeating the first half of the film. What more can you expect from a film called Snakes on a Plane? Once you introduce the Snakes on a Plane, where else do you have to go? It’ s not like a haunted house, or a small village, or the woods, it’ s an airtight fuselage with limited mobility and no escape.

Writers John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez milk the fangs out of the premise, but once the snakes are loose, you either have people dying or running from snakes. Some variations are interesting (and funny), but after half the passengers become in-flight meals, the plot bottoms out into an extended cat-and-mouse game. Some survivors become sacrificial lambs, others rise to the occasion, and a video game player offers to fill in for the pilots. How can you deny that logic?

Fortunately, neither the filmmakers or the cast take any of this seriously, constantly winking at the camera, assuring us Snakes on a Plane is only one beat away from becoming a full-blown spoof of disaster films. Not that it doesn’t=t try. Most of the characters are written as thin as boarding passes, caricatures guaranteed to elicit an immediate connection. This shorthand allows Ellis, who directed Final Destination 2 and Cellular, to efficiently load the plane and get on with the action. Each character arrives with personal baggage, making them superficially sympathetic, and thus ripe for the picking.

Will it be the Latino mother and her new baby? Or two boys on their own? Or the germ-hating rapper (Flex Alexander) and his entourage? The prissy Brit in a snit after being kicked out of First Class? The rich girl and her precious little dog? There’ s morbid fun picking potential victims. Anyone familiar with horror movie rules know the horny couple in the head probably won’ t reach climax.

Jackson seems to be having a ball. He signed on to do the film based on the title (and balked when they tried to change it to Pacific Flight 121), and is perfectly in tune with the film= s B-movie spirit. Jackson gets to make some terrific speeches and quote some great, kick-ass dialogue, but you always see his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Quite honestly, if I were stuck with Snakes on a Plane, I would want Jackson at the controls.

So it is easier to accept reluctant witness Sean Jones= (Nathan Phillips) trust in Flynn to escort him from Hawaii to Los Angeles to testify against gang leader Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). Especially knowing the ruthless Kim will do everything in his power to make sure Jones doesn’t it arrive at his destination. Believing they have covered every possible security violation, Jones, Flynn and his partner take up residency in First Class.

Where there’ s a will there’ s a way, and Kim uses his connections to load several crates of poisonous snakes onto the plane, timed to be released midway over the Pacific. Adding insult to injury, Kim’ s men spray the farewell leis with a scent guaranteed to piss off snakes.

Once the snakes slither their way through the plane, the ensuing chaos turns passenger against passenger, requiring Flynn to make some radical decisions. Since a bullet could rip the plane open, Flynn, soon-to-retire head flight attendant Claire Miller (Julianne Margulies), and the remaining flight crew are forced to use ordinary objects as weapons.

Margulies is quite engaging as Claire, whose character flaw of pending retirement to better her life should spell instant doom. Claire is vital to the survival of the flight, and Margulies convinces us years of experience have prepared her for everything except Snakes on a Plane. She doesn’t it just occupy the role, she takes control of it and brands it with fierce determination. Karen Black would be proud.

Phillips (Wolf Creek) is befittingly laid back as a dude who would rather be surfing in Bali than battling snakes, but once he gets into the swing of things, watch out. Kenan Thompson provides ample comic relief as one of the rapper’ s bodyguards, while Lin Shaye and Sunny Mabrey add some meat to the skeletal flight crew.

Using live, animatronic, and digital snakes, the filmmakers effectively create a powerful menace. Anyone with a fear of snakes will cringe as they appear out of nowhere, falling down from and popping up out of the strangest places. When the snakes aren’t killing the passengers, the passengers do a good job of killing each other, turning panic into death. I guess when you have no where else to run, you have to run over the one you love.

The filmmakers obviously show a lot of love for the genre, employing every cliché in the canon. Their passion shows in the desire to make all of this work despite obvious limitations. Adam Greenberg’ s camera never stops, constantly shoving us right in the middle of the action. Howard E. Smith’ s razor-sharp editing rarely allows the film to breathe. Trevor Rabin’ s score brings it all together.

While it’ s hard to recommend a film called Snakes on a Plane to the Jane Austen crowd, I have no reservations telling fans of this genre they will get exactly what they pay for. There’s nothing original here. People on planes, trains, boats and cars have been attacked by everything from birds, spiders, rats, and reptiles. William Shatner even saw a Gremlin on his flight. Done right, there’ s always room for one more, and Snakes on a Plane gets it right.


Don’ t Diss The HissSnakes Put Bite Into Airborne ThrillerSnakes On A Plane

Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Rachel Blanchard, Flex Alexander, Kenan Thompson, Sunny Mabrey. Directed by David R. Ellis. Rated R. 105 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $7.00

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