Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Snakes On A Plane (2006)

DIRECTOR: David R. Ellis
WRITERS: Sheldon Turner, Sebastien Gutierrez & Jonathan Hefferman (based on a story by Jonathan Hefferman & David Dalessandro)
CAST: Samuel L. Jackson (Neville Flynn), Nathan Phillips (Sean Jones), Terry Chen (Chen Leong), Julianna Margulies (Claire Miller), Rachel Blanchard (Mercedes Harbont), Mark Houghton (John Sanders), Byron Lawson (Eddie Kim), Sunny Mabrey (Tiffany), Todd Louiso (Price), Flex Alexander (Clarence Dewey), Kenan Thompson (Troy), Bruce James (Ken), David Koechner (Rick), Bobby Cannavale (Hank Harris) & Elsa Pataky (Maria)

An FBI Agent is tasked with transporting a murder witness from Hawaii to Los Angeles, unaware that their plane has been booby-trapped with hundreds of angry, poisonous snakes...

The term "high concept" is taken to its natural conclusion here, as the one-sentence pitch becomes the project's title: snakes on a plane. After slithering around Hollywood during the 90s as a script called Venom, some bright spark took a gamble in the 00s and amazingly secured Samuel L. Jackson to headline.

Jackson later claimed he accepted the gig based on the title alone, even threatening to walk if the studio changed it to Pacific Air Flight 121. Snakes On A Plane soon became an internet phenomenon, after screenwriter Josh Friedman drew attention to the title in his blog. His comments ignited a frenzy of fan-sites, rabid forum discussion and unauthorised merchandise.

Of course, once the film was actually released in cinemas, realization soon dawned that the hype was misplaced. It may have a deliciously cheesey title and ridiculous premise, but that's about it. In the end, Snakes On A Plane is just a bad movie. Even worse, it's a bad movie that's trying to be bad, which therefore robs it of a kitsch appeal.

What transforms cinematic trash into guilty pleasure is often the fact they're trying to rise above crap acting, wobbly sets and bad special effects. Famously bad film director Ed Wood never meant Plan 9 From Outer Space to be notoriously awful, he just couldn't overcome his own limitations and meagre budget. On the flipside, Snakes On A Plane is the product of David R. Ellis, workmanlike director of Final Destination 2, and performed by dependable actors. But they're all trying, knowingly, to ape modern B-movies.... and therefore fail.

Samuel L. Jackson would be entertaining even if he just read a flight safety manual, but he's pushed into the background too often. There are criminally few Sam-versus-snake moments, and what there is disappoints. Even his infamous rallying cry ("I've had it with these motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' plane!") sits uncomfortable now it's extracted from the film's trailer.

This is just a crazy idea given life on the whim of a chancer. A spoof trailer unwisely stretched to serious feature-length. Driven by huge expectations and online fervour, it's so intent on being dumb-but-fun that it just mechanically ticks off boxes for 105 minutes. It probably didn't help that the filmmakers enlisted the "help" of the online community by suggesting ideas for the film.

As with anything involving a confined space and snakes, there's a mild degree of sporadic fun, but within five minutes of the reptile's release, you'll be bored. Just close your eyes and imagine CGI slitherers biting tongues, tits, arms and eyes. That's this movie -- and nothing more --for long stretches. Then, in the film's final act, attention turns to more conventional high-flying terror ("can anyone fly a plane?") and even the snakes take a backseat. I'd grown bored of them an hour ago, so this was no bad thing. Even the appearance of a giant anaconda-sized snake doesn't shake things up -- one badly-made man-eating scene later, and the critter's forgotten about!

The actors do what they can with their stereotypical roles: the stuffy British businessman, a dog-loving hottie (Rachel Blanchard, the bimbo from Peep Show), the idiot rapper and his fat bodyguards (one of whom is Kenan Thompson of Kenan & Kel "fame"), a mother and her newborn baby, a plucky flight attendant (ER's Julianna Margulies, lamenting her career), etc. Only Sam "The Man" Jackson's career escapes unscathed, as we can accept he's been similarly hoodwinked by *that* title, along with the thousands of bloggers and myspacers...

Boo and, indeed, hisssss.

New Line Cinema
Budget: $33 million
105 minutes
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