August 25, 2006

Close Encounters of the Slithering Kind

Snakes on a Plane

Matt Watson – 5 out of 5 Stars

Take a simple premise, a good cast, some good dialog, a scary villain and you have the ingredients for a good movie. Turn that scary villain into two hundred bloodthirsty snakes and add a heaping dose of Samuel L. Jackson and you have Snakes on a Plane. That movie recipe goes from merely good, to being absolutely fantastic.

The simple premise is just that, simple. The LA mob has murdered a vacationing lawyer and the FBI has a witness (Nathan Phillips). That witness must be brought to LA from Hawaii to testify. How do you get from Hawaii to LA? You take a plane. No complicated storylines, no need to expand on a back story, just enough info to get moving.

Now that the premise is up and running, we get to meet the rest of the cast. Along with our FBI agent and our witness we have the flight crew and passengers for South Pacific Air flight 121. Julianna Margulies plays Claire, the head flight attendant who happens to be on her last flight. We have David Koechner (who fans will recognize from Anchorman) as the chauvinist co-pilot. They’re joined by the token sexy flight attendant, the token effeminate male attendant, and the token older past-her-prime flight attendant. We also have on board a famous rapper and his two bodyguards, a ditzy women and her pet chihuahua, a stuck up British businessman, a professional kick boxer, a mother and her newborn, a man who’s scared to fly and his new wife, two young brothers flying alone for the first time, and a young stoner couple.

If you’re wondering why I listed all those people, it’s because they actually add something to the movie. Snakes on a Plane is not exactly an ensemble movie, but it utilizes each person to the fullest. This movie has more character development for the throw away characters than the entire three hours of Dead Man’s Chest. This isn’t a bunch of faceless passengers meekly sitting in their seats waiting for something to happen. This is a living breathing mob that manages to display everything that is good and bad about humanity. And that’s all outside the scope of the main plot.

Seeing as he can’t kill the witness while he’s in FBI custody the mob boss decides to release hundreds of venomous snakes on the place to do the job for him. Just to make sure the snakes do their part the entire plane is saturated with pheromones designed to turn the snakes into bloodthirsty, flesh-eating, vampires. The results are scary, gory, pick your feet up off the floor encounters of the slithering kind and it’s a riot. The movie is already unbelievable and it knows that so pushing things over the top only adds to the fun. The snakes are ridiculous, the fights are comical, and the finale is absolutely a blast.

All of this would be for naught, if it wasn’t for the presence of Samuel L. Jackson. At this point in his career he can hold a film together just by the force of his personality. When he tells the passengers to listen to him because he’s the only hope they have everyone in the theater believes him. He’s one of the few actors that can maintain his action hero status with the audience while still being accessible as a character. He only yells when he has too, he’d rather talk it out than fight, and he intimidates with his eyes rather than his gun. Not only does this make enable him to develop a rapport with the other characters but when he goes into full throttle bad ass mode it’s all the more impressive. New Line was originally going to produce this film as a PG-13 vehicle but thanks to the overwhelming internet-based fan pressure they opted for the full bore R rating. They made the correct choice, if only to let Jackson drop one of the best one-liner’s in quite awhile.

Over the last ten years creating action movies has become an rigid exercise in bigger explosions, bigger guns, and bigger destruction, often at the expense of the actual plot and characters. This trend has been encouraged by Hollywood, specifically because of their need for summer blockbuster for revenue. Snakes on a Plane avoids that idea and feels more like a throwback to the B-movie monster films of the 50’s. Instead of the effects being the point, filmmakers are beginning to use the technology to underscore the stories. This shift in thinking is starting to produce some fantastic movies, including Snakes on a Plane.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Obviously you enjoyed the movie!
Good writing job.