Snakes on a Plane
directed by David R. Ellis, Lex Halaby
(New Line, 2006)

It's a lovely day in Hawaii.

People are surfing, women are walking along the beach falling out of their bikinis and singer-songwriter Donavon Frankenleiter is crooning "It's gonna be a lovely day" for the benefit of anyone who has any doubts about the weather. It's such a lovely day that biker-boy Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) just can't resist taking his sweet green machine out for a ride down the coastal highway and into the lush Hawaiian countryside, where he comes face to face with -- gasp -- a dangling prosecutor. So much for Sean's (and everyone else's) "lovely day."

The next thing you know, Jones is aboard an L.A.-bound South Pacific Air jet full of snakes (yes, Snakes on a Plane) in the protective custody of the FBI's and Hollywood's biggest, blackest federal agent ever, Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson), who's only slightly less menacing than the snakes.

But wait. Back up. What are all those snakes doing on that plane?

Well, it seems the dangling L.A. prosecutor Sean witnessed wasn't just hanging around upside down waiting to wish Jones a "lovely day." He was suspended by rope from a railroad bridge waiting for martial arts Mafioso Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) to come bash him to bits with a baseball bat -- the first of many gratuitous acts of violence -- for attempting to take Kim to court.

But Jones and Flynn are hardly alone on the plane. Accompanying them are enough people with enough problems to overpopulate any Airport film, be it original, sequel or prequel.

We have a testy Englishman, a bimbo with a pooch in her purse, germaphobic rapper 3Gs, germaphobic rapper boy-buds Troy and Leroy, a woman who loses her baby, a woman who's lost her waistline, a kickboxer, a couple of honeymooners, a couple that won't stop copulating, a couple of cute kids flying for the first time without their military dad, a flight attendant named Tiffany, a flight attendant not named Tiffany, a flight attendant who should have retired before this flight but didn't, a flight attendant (Julianna Margulies) whose thankless job it will be to ask if there's anyone who can fly this plane (admit it -- you knew that was coming), a pilot who has an eye for at least one of the flight attendants, and Flynn's snakeaphobic partner, John Sanders (Mark Houghton).

Fortunately, they're all in good hands -- the hands of director David R. Ellis, a former child star, stunt man and second unit director for Baywatch. And Ellis takes Snakes on a Plane just where it has to go, because, let's face it, film fans don't shell out $8.50 for a seat and $5.50 for a bottomless tub of popcorn just to see if 3Gs gets over his germaphobia or Pilot Rick has his way with one of the flight attendants.

Snakes on a Plane is about snakes on a plane -- pheromone-fueled snakes, that is -- hundreds of them, all headed for passengers with fangs aglow. And golly-gosh-gee-whiz if these snakes don't look like snakes, sound like snakes, slither like snakes and strike like snakes, though to be honest, it does seem they have an extraordinary talent for hitting passengers right in their erogenous zones.

Ellis follows his snakes closely throughout the plane, even giving us a snake's-eye view from time to time so we can see who the nearest snake is going to go for next -- or what they're going to unplug. You have to say one thing for these reptiles: They have a terrific work ethic.

Meanwhile, the passengers are busy trying to out-act, or maybe out-overact, each other. Jackson and Margulies do their best to turn their cardboard cutouts into people, but given the lines they're handed by screenwriters John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez, that's not easy for either. But that's one of the great things about Snakes on a Plane. It doesn't pretend to be what it's not. In fact, it barely pretends to be what it is.

It's hard to tell at times which film it's trying harder to imitate: Airport or Airplane. Best example -- the way Leroy changes his mind about having the snake venom sucked out of his butt when he sees who's handling the lip work.

I won't ask you to guess. It's too easy.

Many reptile experts have come forward to note that snakes on a plane would never act like Snakes on a Plane. Of course they wouldn't. But most people would. And that's the fun of watching Snakes on a Plane.

It's really all about pheromones. The snakes are just there for color. And a bit of comic relief.

review by
Miles O'Dometer

7 February 2009

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