Snakes On A Plane

Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Released in 2006, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 21 Aug 2006 by Craig Eastman
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Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) is unlucky enough to have witnessed a brutal murder in Hawaii by notorious Eastern mob boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson), and is being flown to LA to testify in the charge of G-man Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson). Being your common or garden psychopath, Kim has no intention of letting Jones see the inside of a courtroom and, after exhausting all other options (look, he did, alright?) decides the most effective way to off poor Sean is to, erm, release hundreds of deadly snakes onto the flight. As you do. The logistics of this are best (and wisely) left to the imagination of the audience, and anyway if you paid to see a movie called Snakes On A Plane expecting coherent plot logic then more the fool you. So the scene is set for this years' most splendidly daft big budget outing, and I'm glad to report that after all the internet hype and cult-baiting the finished article is most certainly entertaining.

It's both a sign of the times and some measure of the intelligence of those involved that Snakes On A Plane comes so monickered. Hollywood really has started running out of original titles, and the idea of the high concept action movie that started as a gentle flake in the early 80s has now snowballed so much that apparently it's no longer enough to be able to convey your idea in a sentence. Oh no; now it appears people want movies that do exactly what they say on the tin, and director David R. Ellis, along with leading man Sam Jackson, is smart enough to play tightly within the confines of that definition. Everything about Snakes is pure simplicity itself, and this is undoubtedly it's strongest card.

John Heffernan and Sebastien Gutierrez deserve some kind of award (although I'm not sure which) for a screenplay that pares itself down to the bare minimum of logic, exposition and linguistic dexterity. The dialogue in particular is sheer genius, with Jackson's climactic "Enough is enough!" diatribe doing the rounds long before the movie's release. Complementing this are a variety of fruity, expletive-riddled asides, my personal favourite coming as one poor fellow urinating in the bathroom has a venomous reptile attach itself to his privates. It's consistently laugh-out-loud funny, but in such a way that it's seldom in doubt that the writers appreciated the absurdity of what they were creating. While there is a distinct lack of "wink to camera" moments, the audience is never in question as to the intentions of the filmmakers, and it's for this reason alone that one suspects there is some kind of twisted skill on display here, so long as you don't actually look too hard for it.

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This reviewer was pleasantly surprised to find himself rolling in the aisles not at the movie but with it. I wish the same could have been said for my fellow patrons who seemed to find my violent fits of chortling something of an annoyance, but then there really is something wrong if you go into a film called Snakes On A Plane in anything other than a childish frame of mind. Although it makes little effort to pitch itself as a gore flick, there is also a most agreeable level of "by the by" violence as a side effect to the stampeding passengers fleeing in terror, such as a trampled man having a stiletto heel snapped off in his ear. Maybe it's just me, but all that jazz just adds to the comedy as far as I'm concerned, and it's somewhat ironic that there are more surprise "yuck" moments here than in any number of supposed horror movies in recent memory.

Clearly David R. Ellis has a firm grasp of what was and rightfully should have been expected from the movie, and while I've heard some comments regarding how much better it could have been had original director Ronny Yu remained at the helm it's hard to imagine it could have been that much more fit for purpose. The fact that the cast clearly get the joke too (especially normally po-faced Julianna Marguiles as head stewardess Claire Miller) is just the icing on a purposefully contrived, purposefully silly cake. The passengers, all crowded into coach class after Flynn commandeers first class, are the usual disaster / horror movie stereotypes of arrogant business men, rich bitch Paris Hilton wannabes, famous rappers, copulating twenty-somethings and whining children, but scant regard is paid to the conventions of who should and should not be bitten. It hardly raises the level of suspense much (is there supposed to be any to begin with?), but it's nice to see the gusto with which Ellis dishes out summary justice to those who do not necessarily even deserve it.

All in all Snakes is just about as entertaining a film as I have seen all year. Hell, it may just be the most outright entertaining film I've seen this decade. The fact that it's received a mark of three should not reflect poorly upon it, as I'm sure those involved would tell you that's all it sets out to be. It should be noted though that Ellis and co., in setting the bar so strangely and deliberately low, have made absolutely the best of what they have to work with, all the while having the sense to herald beforehand the fact that nobody in their right mind should go into the cinema expecting an Oscar contender. It's a bluff hand well played indeed, and so pleasing to see so many normally harsh critics stumped with nothing else to offer except to admit that here is a movie which, if nothing else, delivers exactly what it promises from the off. Snakes on a plane. No motherf**kin' more, no motherf**kin' less.

David R. Ellis
Cast list:
Samuel L. Jackson (Nelville Flynn)
Julianna Marguiles (Claire Miller)
Nathan Phillips (Sean Jones)