Snakes on a Plane (2006) / Comedy-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for language, brief nudity, sexual references, and violence
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Rachel Blanchard, Bobby Cannavale, Flex Alexander, Kenan Thomspon, Byron Lawson, Todd Louiso, Keith "Blackman" Dallas, David Koechner, Lin Shaye, Bruce James, Sunny Mabrey, Casey Dubois, Daniel Hogarth, Gerard Plunkett, Terry Chen
Director: David R. Ellis
Screenplay: John Hefferman, Sebastian Gutierrez
"He's stupid, but he knows he's stupid, and that almost makes him smart" ~~ derived from a sample (of unknown origin) used by the rap group 3rd Bass in one of their early songs, "Sons of 3rd Bass".
The makers of Snakes on a Plane know that they're making a stupid movie, and they also know that we know we're watching a stupid movie. They make no attempts to hide the fact, and they also make the conscious decision to make the entire film as stupid as possible for maximum impact. The quote I used in the intro to this review is a great nutshell summation, not only because Snakes on a Plane is a stupid movie, but it knows it, which makes it almost smart. Key word: almost.
Eddie Kim (Lawson, Lightning: Bolts of Destruction) is a ruthless gangster rumored to be so merciless that he gouged out a man's eyeballs and fed them to pigs when he was going to testify against him as an eyewitness in court. Unfortunately for adventurist Sean Jones (Phillips, Under the Radar), he just became an eyewitness to the murder of the Los Angeles prosecuting attorney in the biggest case against Kim. Jones is reluctant to go to the cops due to possible police corruption issues, but Kim isn't going to take any chances and wants him iced anyway. Enter FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Jackson, Freedomland), who has been commissioned to ensure Jones' arrival in Los Angeles via a red-eye flight from Hawaii. The Feds thought they had every angle covered, but they weren't expecting the most diabolically insane plot ever: the deadliest snakes from all over the world are smuggled on board and released with a timed explosive, and with pheromones in the air, they proceed to attack anyone and anything they can on board the flight.
At the risk of having my Geek Pass permanently revoked, I can't with good conscience give Snakes on a Plane a positive review. I do realize that at no time does the film ever really try to be good; I'm not really slamming the film for that. What I am disappointed with is that it doesn't really have the intelligence and determination to truly carry the momentum of the comic mischief and campy horror with sufficient consistency. It's not that it isn't funny -- it's just not funny enough. It's not that it isn't scary -- it's just not scary enough. It's not that it isn't thrilling -- it's just not thrilling enough. When it's all said and done, Snakes on a Plane is entertaining -- it's just not entertaining enough.
Snakes on a Plane would have been just another campy B-movie, perhaps as entertaining as Gremlins and Tremors in execution, but it got caught up in the whirlwind of pre-release publicity generated by the rabid internet sites, newsgroups, and discussion boards that regularly feast on the banal and absurd in entertainment. Let's face it, computer geeks (I'll admit to being a bit guilty here) enjoy being campy and silly, and any film called Snakes on a Plane and starring the ultimate bad-ass, Samuel L. Jackson, is going to score high with the geek elite. While the books on cinema history probably won't rate Snakes very high in terms of groundbreaking technique or overall excellence, it will forever show the power of hype and anticipation generated by discussion among the global online community for a film, perhaps even besting the buzz generated by another major sleeper hit, The Blair Witch Project.
Unfortunately for the reputation of Snakes on a Plane, it has also become too large a phenomenon for the geeks to embrace it as their own anymore. Just like Blair Witch, its popularity has crossed it over into that mainstream appeal that always has geeks disowning it, as its more fun to tout it as great when no one else has really seen it or heard of it. The massive pre-release buzz had the filmmakers doing some re-shoots to bump the film to an R rating, allowing for some crass sexual humor, gross-out horror, and salty Sam Jackson cutting completely loose with the F-bombs. I'll admit, it's fun for a while, but after you've watched the first few snake attacks, the rest of the film becomes very redundant, and the final hour of the film just doesn't have that same sense of fun as the initial 45 minutes.
"Enough is enough! I've had it with these muthafuckin' snakes on this muthafuckin' plane!"
If my opening quote is a good enough review of the idea for this film, this second quote, delivered by Jackson just before the climactic battle for control of the plane's cockpit late in the film, adequately passes for how I felt about the film for about a half hour prior in the movie's running time. What was funny in a three-minute trailer or in conceiving of the possibilities in an internet forum isn't quite enough to sustain a 105-minute movie. As long as the developments keep shifting, Snakes on a Plane is able to keep from sinking into the trappings of its own b-movie essence. Alas, once the snakes pop out of the proverbial can, the rest is all madness and mayhem, with very little in the way of fun surprises and interesting events. The film does manage to pick up the pace a bit during the final few scenes, but the pay-off of the film doesn't feel as satisfying as the giant build-up would lead you to think it should be.
Snakes on a Plane is like that one girl you were really enamored with in high school that you never had the nerve to just walk up and talk to. You put her up on a pedestal, knowing that she was perfect in every way, dreaming of how great it would be if you could just figure out a way to get to know her. Then that day finally comes when you actually do meet her, and all those daydreams are washed away once you realize that she had no chance of ever living up the expectations you wildly fantasized about. Yesterday she may have been a princess, but today she's just another girl.
©2006 Vince Leo