Reviewed by: Kenneth R. Morefield
|Featuring:||Samuel L. Jackson, Nathan Phillips, Rachel Blanchard, Todd Louiso, Julianna Margulies|
|Director:||David R. Ellis|
|Producer:||Penney Finkleman Cox, Sandra Rabins, Justis Greene|
|Distributor:||New Line Cinema|
“Relax. They’re first class fliers.”
There is no pleasure in this film that is not extrinsic.
There are pleasures in it, yes, let’s be honest. There is enough campy self-awareness in the film, enough formula, that nothing is really at stake, which is what allows the audience to let the more gruesome parts slide past without much indignation. There is a pleasure, too, in watching a game cast of true professionals really commit to the material, to dive head first into a pool of slithery silliness with zestful, fearless abandon.
Let’s be honest, too, though, that those pleasures aren’t really intrinsic to the film. They don’t emerge from the material; they are prepackaged in it, like the vitamins fortifying a bowl of frosted, sugar-puffed cereal. A good deal more than half the pleasure of the film (if pleasure there be) comes in waiting for what you know is coming—particularly Jackson’s profanely exasperated tirade about how he is “sick of the $#(Q$#Q$Q* snakes on the !@)(#$@ plane.”
The “plot” (I use the term loosely) is that Sean (Nathan Phillips) has witnessed a prosecutor being beaten to death by Eddie Kim (a mobster? drug lord? ah, who cares, really?) and must be transported back to Los Angeles by an FBI agent (Samuel L. Jackson) so that he can testify against Kim at trial. Poisonous snakes are smuggled onto the plane. Snakes are released. Chaos ensues, followed by noble acts of self-sacrifice, followed by more chaos and more sacrifice.
The truth is, “Snakes on a Plane”, is one of those films that may very well be review-proof. The genius of the title lies not in its annunciation of the film’s pitch—“Speed”, “Cliffhanger”, and “Love Story” are all titles that do the same thing. What “Snakes on a Plane” has working for it as a title (and, truthfully, as a film as well) is an unapologetic, almost defiant brazenness that lets it shrug off any criticism, however valid it might be:
Don’t like the incessant swearing? What were you expecting? Check the title of the film!
Don’t like the gruesome death shots of puffed up corpses? Check the title of the film!
If you started to ask whether the female nudity (or the whole sex scene) was gratuitous—of course it was—check the title of the film!
If you started to ask why the drug lord killed the prosecutor in broad daylight—see the title of the film!
If you started to ask why Eddie Kim had the ability to collect all the snakes from around the world, ship them to Hawaii, and get them on board but not the ability to just kill the witness—check the title of the film!
If you wonder why Eddie has to be tried in Los Angeles for a murder that he committed in Hawaii—check the title of the film!
If you are wondering whether or not the rich, snooty professional with the foreign accent who insults the flight attendants and the other passengers will receive the most horrific death of any of the passengers—you haven’t checked the title of the film!
The safe thing to do would be to give “Snakes on a Plane” an enthusiastic review. Those who are likely to see it are likely to get exactly what they expect and, hence, to be satisfied. Those likely to be offended by the film aren’t likely to be persuaded to see it by a warm review.
Honestly, though, I thought the film was the metaphoric equivalent of a “tweener” in basketball—a player that might be too big to play guard against smaller, faster opponents, yet too small to bang for rebounds against power forwards. “Snakes on a Plane” is a little too gross and gory for me to honestly be able to call it entertaining or fun and a little too conceptually stupid for me to think it could ever succeed as anything other than an entertainment piece. If you don’t like sports metaphors, say that the film aims at being slyly self-deprecating but comes across as a tad too calculated… and trying too hard rarely comes across as “cool.”
That’s not to say it won’t be successful. Most films that midwife pleasure rather than give birth to it may not be particularly good or interesting when subjected to formal, objective scrutiny. But there is an art towards engendering good will by providing a context for audience participation, whether it be imaginative (can you think of more ways to kill a snake using stuff available on an airplane than your buddy?) or ritual (memorizing lines and shouting them out). “Snakes on a Plane” has not only mastered that art, it has taken it to a new level.
My Grade: The marketing: A+ / The film: C+
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate