When surfer Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips, "Wolf Creek") witnesses the brutal murder of a vacationing LA prosecutor by notorious LA mob boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson), he becomes Kim's next target, but he's saved by FBI Agent Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson, "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," "Freedomland") who tough talks the dude into returning to LA as a witness for the prosecution. The FBI commandeers First Class for their Pan Pacific flight but the flying won't be smooth - Kim's staged a hissy fit with "Snakes on a Plane."
The biggest Internet pre-made cult film since "The Blair Witch Project" because of its cheesy B-movie title, "Snakes on a Plane" should deliver just what its audience is looking for - obvious gross out gags, silly situations and that fan-demanded R-rated Sam Jackson line. But it also offers some surprises, most notably an amusing parody of the original 1970's disaster flick "Airport," nice chemistry between Jackson and Julianna ('I passed on tens of millions with 'ER' for this movie career) Margulies and a couple of unexpected character arcs, most notably with Rachel Blanchard's ("Without a Paddle," "Where the Truth Lies") Paris Hiltonesque airhead.
The film begins with establishing shots like a second rate episode of "Hawaii Five-O," sets up its bad guy vs. FBI scenario, then gets to the airport, where Pan Pacific flight attendant Claire Miller (Julianna Margulies, "Ghost Ship") is sizing up her last flight. She's harassed by sexist co-pilot Rick (David Koechner, "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby") and informed she's the one who will have to reroute boarding First Class passengers to coach. And we've got a who's who flight roster. There's uber-famous rapper Three G's (Flex Alexander, "She's All That," TV's "Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story"), who doesn't like to be touched, and his two large sized flunkies Troy (Kenan Thompson, "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," SNL) and Big Leroy (Keith "Blackman" Dallas, "Final Destination 3"). Mercedes and her purse-sized dog Mary Kate ask if coach is 'safe' and begins to help take Three G's mind off his inconvenience. In addition to Mercedes' yapping dog, a British businessman with prominent hair plugs is annoyed by the presence of a baby in its young mother's arms. Curtis and Tommy are the two little boys flying alone. How could screenwriters John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez (from a story by David Dalessandro and John Heffernan) have overlooked the nun?
As Flynn and Sean settle in, attended to by the overly flirtatious Tiffany (Sunny Mabrey, "xXx: State of the Union"), and the plane takes off, down in cargo a timer goes off and releases more snakes than one could shake a stick at, all riled up by pheromones sprayed onto the airline's complimentary leis (hey, some actual thought went into the logic of this thing you know!. That cat we saw earlier sitting in its travel crate is, of course, the first victim, quickly followed by a randy couple joining the mile high club and a man who has more traditional need of the facilities. No one ever notices that two of the plane's lavatories remain occupied. Next up is the captain, of course, who goes below to fiddle with equipment and is presumed to have had a heart attack. It's not until the plane's oxygen masks are deployed that the snakes make their full presence known, dangling down along with them.
Director David R. Ellis has made fine entertainments out of genre material before with both "Final Destination 2" and "Cellular" and if only the studio hadn't been initially gunning for a PG rating, "Snakes" might have been on their level. But the last minute R-rated insertions (film editing by Howard E. Smith, "Incident at Loch Ness") look like they've been shoved in with a crowbar. The gross-out bits - snakes attack nipples, eyes, tongues and unmentionables, a felled passenger's ear is impaled with a high-heeled shoe - are standalone shots haphazardly thrown into the action and Jackson's nicely delivered line is badly framed and looks like it was shot in front of a projector screen. The ground story led by newly promoted FBI desk jockey Hank Harris (Bobby Cannavale, "The Station Agent," "The Night Listener") and snake expert Dr. Steven Price (Todd Louiso, "High Fidelity") slows down the action, but while the action on the plane may sometimes seem random, there are some true gems. Watch older flight attendant Grace (Lin Shaye, "Dumb & Dumber," "Kingpin") respond to a baby's cry from beyond a passenger build barrier like Lassie, tearing down suitcases to leap to the rescue and Ellis throws in a great visual pun, placing a rattle in the endangered tot's hand. And then Ellis tops himself by making Grace's later death a real moment of sadness.
"Snakes on a Plane" isn't quite as bad as predicted and isn't as hilarious as it should be (see obvious gay jokes involving male attendant Ken played by Bruce James), but a determined Sam Jackson brings the thing home.
Robin did not see this film.
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