SNAKES ON A PLANE
Years from now this 2006
movie, and the brief phenomenon it inspired, will be looked upon as one of the
most unique products of its time. It inspired an unprecedented amount of
prerelease interest, and even incorporated suggestions by fans. The surprise is
that the film actually works extremely well.
I can understand why so many people were anxious to see this film: there’s
something about the combination of poisonous snakes, a plane and Samuel L.
Jackson that just clicks. The film also has one of the greatest, most
self-explanatory movie titles of all time, which thankfully survived its
producers’ boneheaded effort to change it to the far less auspicious PACIFIC AIR
FLIGHT 121 (thank Sam Jackson, who made ‘em change it back, claming the original
title was “the only reason I took the job”).
The internet hype for SNAKES was and is unprecedented. It begun with a
brief write-up on the popular Ain’t-it-Cool-News site about a pitch for the
movie. Over the following months amateur films referencing the still-unseen
SNAKES ON A PLANE appeared, as did fan-made posters, comics and other things.
New Line’s marketing department could be excused for thinking they had a monster
hit on their hands, potentially one of the top-grossing movies of all time.
Suggestions from SNAKES-obsessed bloggers were actually incorporated into the
film, including the immortal line “I’ve had it with these motherfuckin’
snakes on this motherfuckin’ plane!”
Yet the movie, released in August of ’06, opened to
just $15 million. That’s about what any well-performing genre film might be
expected to rake in, but considering the enormous anticipation the film
engendered, that opening was a massive disappointment. The internet phenomenon
for its part dissipated almost immediately upon the film’s release, and is now
little more than a memory.
Neville Flynn is a macho FBI agent charged with escorting young punk Sean
Jones, who’s set to testify against a powerful Asian mobster, from Hawaii to
LA. Flynn commandeers the first class section of a red eye flight for himself
and Sean. This of course annoys the plane’s first class passengers, who
include a wealthy rapper, a wannabe actress and a slimy businessman. What none
of them are aware of is that the mobster wants to ensure that Sean never makes
it to LA, and so packed a crate filled with an assortment of poisonous snakes on
Once the plane is in the air the snakes get loose. The first victims are a
couple getting it on in the john and the next attack is in anther lavatory,
where a dude gets his “big boy” chomped. Things really go haywire when
turbulence causes the oxygen masks to deploy--along with hundreds of snakes!
Chaos ensues until Flynn comes up with the bright idea of building a luggage
barrier at one end of the plane, thus walling off the snakes.
But there’s more trouble: the pilot is bit, forcing Flynn and a stewardess
to commandeer the plane, and the snakes break through the barrier, causing the
passengers to flee to the off limits first class section. By this point Flynn
decides he’s had enough, and so decides to “open some fuckin’ windows!”
Were he active twenty years ago, I’m positive director David R. Ellis
(who also helmed the wonderfully shlocky New Line flicks FINAL DESTINATION II
and CELLULAR) would be cranking out low budgeters for cut-rate outfits like
Concorde, Cannon or Empire. It was in those companies that B-movie masters like
Stuart Gordon and
Albert Pyun got their start, moviemakers whose work SNAKES ON A PLANE explicitly
recalls. But Gordon and Pyun tend to make straight-to-video fodder, whereas
SNAKES is most definitely an audience picture, best experienced on the biggest
screen you can find in the company of the rowdiest crowd available.
David Ellis may not be a particularly subtle or introspective filmmaker,
but he knows how to crank out a slick and satisfying potboiler that delivers the
goods. SNAKES ON A PLANE contains a great deal of cornball action in its early
scenes, and as it goes on delivers leering sex and nudity, not to mention the
most outrageous snake carnage you’ll ever experience: we see a snakes fondle a
woman while she sleeps, bite a chick’s tit, devour a man’s head, bite a young
boy’s arm, etc. Ellis and screenwriters John Hefferan and Sebastian Gutierrez
accomplish all this with a distinct self-awareness lacking in most grade-B fare,
which at times does admittedly grow a tad annoying (i.e. Samuel Jackson’s
cutesy quip about “Snakes on crack!”).
The whole thing is such a kick I’m willing to forgive the occasionally
distracting CGI effects and uneven performances. Samuel L. Jackson is the
above-the-title star and stand-out performer, doing his steely Jules Winfield
shtick, which turns out to be exactly what this film needs. I strongly doubt
anyone else could deliver the already-legendary line “I’ve had it with these
mutherfuckin’ snakes on this mutherfuckin’ plane!” with anywhere near the
same nutty gravitas Sam Jackson does.
SNAKES ON A PLANE
New Line Cinema
Director: David R. Ellis
Producers: Gary Levinsohn, Don Granger, Craig Berenson
Screenplay: John Hefferan, Sebastian Gutierrez
Cinematography: Adam Greenburg
Editing: Howard E. Smith
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Bobby Cannavale,
Flew Alexander, Todd Louiso, Kenan Thompson, Sunny Mabrey, Elsa Pataky, David
Koechner, Lin Shaye, Bruce James, Keith Dallas, Casey Dubois