Monday, August 21, 2006

MOVIES: Snakes on a Plane

Wow, I didn't realize there was such a high demand (as measured in comments on my previous post) for a timely review of Snakes on a Plane. If you were waiting for my review before seeing it, you may already have missed your chance. Despite a critical consensus leaning surprisingly toward the positive side, Snakes failed to light up the box office (much to Dorian's glee). I saw the 7:30 showing on Friday night, and there were maybe 20 other people in the theater. That's a second-week Tuesday matinee crowd, not prime time opening night. Ouch.

I went into this movie not with the expectation of ironically getting a kick out of something that sucks, but with genuine anticipation that it would be a good, if lightweight, action movie. Turns out I had to rely a leeetle more on the irony factor than I was hoping in order to fully enjoy the film. When a movie opens with some XXXTREME!!! dirt-biking, coupled with some of the worst acting I've ever seen (namely, Byron Lawson as the gangster bad guy and Nathan Phillips as the dirt-biking witness), it's already got a major hole to climb out of. I mean, I watched most of Boa and Python on the Sci-Fi Channel on Sunday morning (it was a lazy day, so sue me). Boa "starred" Dean Cain, and the big draw of Python was Robert Englund (although on the plus side, it did feature a purple-haired Wil Wheaton, and Jenny McCarthy getting decapitated). And Lawson and Phillips would've been laughed out of those movies.

Fortunately, Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson shows up not too much later, and things get a little better. There's a little plot that gets in the way of the action (Jackson has to convince Phillips to testify, and takes him under his protection), and then we have to meet all the lame crew and passengers on the plane who will soon be dying (at least there was the joy of seeing David Koechner as the co-pilot, playing basically the same sexist doofus character he did in Anchorman). But then. THEN! The snakes get loose, and the fun begins.

There are a couple of snake-induced jolts, and some excellent gross-out moments, which I appreciated, but mostly I spent the entire remainder of the film laughing. Listen: a woman goes to throw up in a barf bag, and a snake jumps out of it and bites her on the tongue. How do you not love that?? The craziness just keeps escalating, the action keeps getting wilder, the people keep getting stupider, and you just have to take your brain off the hook and laugh yourself silly.

One problem with the film (only one??) is that, other than Jackson, there's not really anybody to root for on the plane (with the possible exception of Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson, who is the best intentionally funny part of the movie). They're all basically stupid or vile or completely undefined, so that when the snakes start chomping, you don't really care who gets saved and who doesn't. You just want the snakes to get everybody. When the death that hits the hardest is that of the actress best known for being completely disgusting in a couple movies from the Farrelly brothers, well, maybe you should've spent a little bit more time on the characters. (Other than the snakes.)

Jackson does his level best to carry this movie, and it's a large part of why it manages to be fun. (It was a small crowd, but we still all cheered at his line, "I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!") But he's carrying an awful lot of weight. Even if you don't try to actually analyze the movie, even if you don't bother wishing it made at least a little bit of sense, it's still not a great work of art. It's cheesy goodness at best. I laughed a hell of a lot (sometimes even at things meant to be funny), and I came out of it feeling glad I'd seen it. I enjoyed it, but on a lower level than I was hoping it might achieve. Yes, unbelievably enough, it seems I expected too much out of a movie called Snakes on a Plane.

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