(R) Three stars
I saw Snakes on a Plane with my son at the 1:50 p.m. screening Saturday at AMC Greenwood Park. By going to a great cineplex at the height of a weekend afternoon, we were sure the auditorium would be packed with people ready to have a ball, and what better way to see a flick like this could there be?
Unfortunately, the crowd failed to materialize. Only about 25-30 people showed up — on a Saturday matinee at one of the best theaters in the entire Indianapolis area. Turns out this wasn’t an isolated occurrence. While Snakes on a Plane managed to eke out enough business to come out on top of the box office on a slow summer weekend, the uber-hyped production did far less business than anticipated. I won’t speculate here why the Internet frenzy didn’t translate into the material world. If you want to read about that, you can find plenty of in-depth articles online.
Now, about the actual movie…
My biggest fear was that Snakes on a Plane (hereafter known as SoaP) would be too self-conscious for its own good. Big, juicy, satisfying B-movies like Tremors or The Hidden don’t come along every day and I was afraid that the SoaP filmmakers would try too hard to make their movie a guilty pleasure and screw up the oh-so-delicate balance of action, yuck moments, tongue-in-cheek humor, quotable lines and memorable character interaction.
Not a problem, mostly. SoaP has plenty of action, though it uses a few too many jump cuts, which makes it hard to tell what’s going on. There are enough flashes of gross images for my middle-of-the-roadkill tastes, and just about the right amount of humor as well. As for memorable lines, not much springs to mind aside from Samuel L. Jackson’s already famous catchphrase, “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!”
SoaP is entertaining, but not in the same league with Tremors or The Hidden because of the character factor. Tremors featured a great friendship between two cranky handymen, along with a devoted survivalist couple. The Hidden had the mismatched-buddy bond between a LA police officer and an otherworldly FBI agent.
SoaP has nothing like that. Samuel L. Jackson, as an FBI agent escorting an endangered witness (Nathan Phillips) from Hawaii to California on a snake-infested plane (there’s your plot synopsis, by the way), anchors the movie nicely with his ultra-authoritarian presence, but there is no one for him to build a relationship with. Oh sure, he interacts with harried flight attendant Julianne Margulies, but only to deal with the business at hand.
While the plane is peopled with some colorful characters, including a pampered rap star (Flex Alexander) and his beefy bodyguards (Kenan Thompson and Keith “Blackman” Dallas), it’s clear the writers spent less time developing relationships and more time cataloging the many ways a plane load of hopped-up snakes could attack the human passengers.
Take a minute and brainstorm how an R-rated movie might choreograph their snakes and you’ll know what to expect. See that lusty young couple slipping into the bathroom to join the mile high club? Buh-bye. Notice the guy that went to take a leak? His penis is about to get some extra openings. The silliest bit plays off the old homophobic jokes about sucking the poison out of snakebites to sensitive parts of the body, with one of the bodyguards refusing to let a male flight attendant suck the poison out of the bite on his ass.
The writers eventually run out of snake attack gags, but by then the emphasis has switched to a different sort of disaster, as the snakes take out the pilots, leaving the passengers to reenact Airport 1975.
While a well-crafted friendship or budding romance might have made Snakes on a Plane more memorable, the bottom line is that the movie is fast-moving, nasty, often amusing and generally exciting. The hype is over and all that’s left is 105 minutes of trashy fun.