I was certain that at least once during the B-movie titled, straight to late night cable "Snakes on a Plane" that I would spend at half the movie with my fingers over my eyes. Consider me shocked when that feat only happened once…at the end of the movie as the credits were rolling. I'm rather impressed with myself.
Anyway, "Snakes on a Plane" is about, well, snakes on a plane. The plot is a touch more sophisticated than that simple title would have us believe. See, there's this really bad mobster guy in Hawaii who had killed-in a rather gruesome scene-a district attorney on vacation there. One little problem: surf boy Sean Jones witnessed this murder. Now, because Mr. Mobster is such a big bad (and wanted) boy, Sean is being flown to LA in order to testify. To ensure the testimony never happens, many hundreds of snakes are covertly put aboard the plane. Now, Sean, Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) and the merry band of clashing personalities on the plane have to survive long enough to get to California…without being killed by the…snakes on the plane.
Alright, I'm going to say this now so I don't have to say it later: this is "Snakes on a Plane". It's not "The Godfather". It's not "Lord of the Rings". Hell, it's not even "Alien vs. Predator". This is "Snakes on a Plane". It takes itself just seriously enough to create dramatic tension but not too seriously as to destroy the fun nature of the film.
And make no mistake, this is a fun film. A fun film in that squirmy, uneasy way that only snakes can elicit. No one tried to reinvent the wheel here, nor did anybody intend "Snakes" to win any mainstream awards. This was a fun project to work on, especially when your lead (Jackson) signs on knowing only the title.
So what is so fun about it? It's fun in the same way that 2005's Jodie Foster airplane thriller "Flightplan" ended up being fun. Here are a group of people literally trapped in a 200 foot tin can (as the co-pilot puts it) faced with an impossible scenario: halfway between Honolulu and Los Angeles, they are attacked by creatures that can slither and crawl on the floors, in the toilets, in the overhead compartments, in the controls, in the engines…basically, anywhere big enough for a snake to get into is fair game. That in itself is a scary, "Alien"-esque premise. But whereas that pillar of science fiction-horror focused on only one deadly creature to overcome, this movie gives us hundreds and hundreds of these things. There is no escape because no matter where you turn, they are there.
The thing is, the first twenty minutes of so of the film have nothing at all to do with the snakes. It's all about the set-up, the exposition that will get us to the main course, the stuff the audience paid to see. What propels "Snakes on a Plane" above its humble B-movie inspiration is that the audience is given the time to somewhat know the people involved before the action begins. Had this been a Sci Fi Channel Original Movie, I have no doubt that most of the exposition would have been jettisoned. But its not and, in order to justify spending millions of dollars on this project, somebody at New Line wanted a story. So we have it.
Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the film lost viewers in those first twenty minutes. But once the snakes start coming out of the circuitry, "Snakes on a Plane" hits overdrive and, with one or two expections, doesn't let up until the end.
To my great astonishment, the people on the plane, more or less, act like real people with real brains in their heads. The gray matter is even used, to boot. I think it's a compliment to the screenplay that the characters were the focus of the story early in order to make them a bit more than the standard bait. When the snakes first attack, they move to the forward compartment, blocking off the back using whatever they can find. When that proves to be a flawed plan, thanks to the plane going into a nosedive, they find themselves on the upper deck in first class. And when the snakes start to encroach there, they find an inspired-if not completely foolproof-ways to secure themselves.
The first thing I wrote in my notes for this movie-before the film even started-was "what do you expect from a movie with this name?". And that sentiment is quite correct. This has the buzz, the groundswell, the name and concept of a schlocky movie of the week. Based on that, my expectations were low. Add to that the fact theater management warned me this movie was bad when I was getting my ticket. I'm never had that happen before.
"Snakes on a Plane" won't hold up to any noticeable scrutiny. For instance, in the beginning of the film, why does it take the bad guys such a short amount of time to find Sean in his apartment? How did the snakes from all around the world make it to Honolulu with no problems whatsoever? Why couldn't the snakes work their way through the plane's interior and eventually to first class? After all, they were found in the cockpit which was at the front of first class.
There are various subplots strewn around just to flesh out the characters. An unneeded but standard subplot has an agent in LA gathering information and anti-venom for when the plane lands. Yes, it's necessary. Yes, it makes logical and rational sense. But, damn, if it doesn't destroy the pacing of the events on the plane. That is where the action is. And in order to create a constricted and claustrophobic feel, once the plane is in the air, that's all the audience should experience.
There are some noticeably gruesome-and laughable-snake bite shots peppered throughout the film. Eyes, genitals, breasts…I'll leave the others as a surprise. I found myself laughing quite a few times throughout the film, perhaps more to cover up my terror at seeing that many snakes on a multi-plex screen than at anything truly funny.
High art? Not even close. Fun film? You bet.