Snakes on a Plane
Director : David R. Ellis
Screenplay : John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez (story by David Dalessandro and John Heffernan)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Samuel L. Jackson (Nelville Flynn), Julianna Margulies (Claire Miller), Nathan Phillips (Sean Jones), Rachel Blanchard (Mercedes), Flex Alexander (Three G's), Kenan Thompson (Troy), Keith "Blackman" Dallas (Big Leroy), Lin Shaye (Grace), Bruce James (Ken), Sunny Mabrey (Tiffany), Casey Dubois (Curtis), Daniel Hogarth (Tommy), Gerard Plunkett (Paul), Terry Chen (Chen Leong), Elsa Pataky (Maria), Byron Lawson (Eddie Kim)
Much ado has been made about the title of Snakes on a Plane, with its hilariously straightforward, B-movie openness that leaves no question as to where the movie's truculent heart lies. Perhaps only Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's upcoming Grindhouse could challenge it for exploitation title of past few years, although Grindhouse has a level of postmodern meta-reflexivity that Snakes on a Plane gloriously lacks. It is what it is.
When New Line, the studio behind Snakes on a Plane, tried to gussy up the flying freakshow with a somber moniker like Flight 121 or Pacific Air 121, salivating fanboys around the Internet emitted a simultaneous cry of despair that was so surprisingly loud that the studio actually backed off (the fact that star Samuel L. Jackson was voicing the same attitude probably didn't hurt). In fact, the Internet fan love for Snakes on a Plane was so intense that it resulted in reshoots of several scenes to up the sex-n-gore element, as well as a fan-penned line of dialogue bellowed by Jackson that has since become the movie's calling card.
Not surprisingly, though, Snakes on a Plane is hardly worth the hype that has circulated around it in cyberspace, but that doesn't mean there isn't fun to be had. After all, there are snakes ... and they're on a plane. If that's what you're looking for, that's what you're going to get, plus some by-the-numbers criminal intrigue, oddball characters right of "The Screenwriter's Guide to Amusing Quirkiness," and, of course, the always-entertaining Samuel L. Jackson doing what he does best: rising above the situation.
The basic story has Jackson as Nelville Flynn, an FBI agent who is escorting Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips), a surfer who witnessed a brutal mob killing, on a plane from Honolulu to Los Angeles. The mobster who is being fingered is a particularly nasty brute named Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson), and he decides that the best way to take out the reluctant witness is to release hundreds of deadly snakes on the plane. Of course, there are myriad easier ways to take out a witness, especially since they know exactly what plane he's on (if they can smuggle an enormous canister of snakes on a plane, couldn't they just plant a bomb?). But, of course, that's boring and obvious, and a movie like Snakes on a Plane thrives on the ludicrous balance between the sublime and the ridiculous.
It isn't long into the movie when the snakes are released, which are made aggressive and excitable by pheromones sprayed on the flower leis everyone is wearing. The snakes come in all shapes and sizes, some tiny and quick, others enormous and bone-crushing. They are played by a mixture of live snakes and CGI snakes, some of which are more convincing than others. Director David R. Ellis (Cellular) builds the tension slowly by allowing the snakes to infiltrate the cabin in small bits, taking out an amorous couple in the bathroom slasher-film-style before making their way into the cockpit. That's when all hell breaks loose as the captain (a boorish but amusing lout played by David Koechner, memorable as the crazy Champ Harken in Anchorman) accidentally deploys the emergency oxygen system, which drops a whole lot more into the cabin than yellow masks and plastic tubing.
Snakes on a Plane lives and dies by its goofy high-concept ethos, and to be fair, screenwriters John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez get a good deal more mileage out of the scenario than I expected. The movie is fairly ruthless in dispatching innocent characters in nasty ways (dying by snake venom, either quickly or slowly, is not a pretty thing), but it keeps enough of a quirky supporting cast alive (including Flex Alexander as a germ-phobic hip-hop star, Kenan Thompson as his video-game-addicted body guard, and Rachel Blanchard as a dim-witted blonde with a toy dog named Mary Kate) to keep Samuel L. Jackson from having to carry the entire movie by himself.
Nevertheless, Jackson is key to keeping Snakes on a Plane from slithering into complete preposterousness, as his stern gravitas and bad-ass relentlessness has achieved a level of mythic proportion that, by this time, is simply incontestable. When he roars that he's had it with "these motherf---ing snakes on this motherf---ing plane," he transcends the line's campy wink-wink origins and makes it a genuine call to arms. Nobody does it better.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2006 New Line Cinema