Directed by David R. Ellis
Imagine a day in the not so distant future when a child who has grown up loving the SciFi Channel is now a ridiculously rich man. One day he is bored and decides he will take a small chunk of his money and fund a SciFi original movie. Just think, one of those fantastic B-movies with an A-list cast of quality actors and top-notch special effects!! His choices were Brontosaurus Carnivore-us, Demon Priest, and a little project called… Snakes on a Plane. The rest is history.
Of course this isn’t the way the film actually got made, but it would explain a lot.
**WARNING: There was no freaking way to do this review without spilling a bit here and there, so while I’d love to be spoiler free, it’s just not going to happen. Read on at your own risk!!**
Snakes on a Plane begins with ultra slick crime boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) caught in the act of being the quintessential Hollywood psycho villain. Since Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are both retired, it’s up to Federal Agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson) to protect the witness to Kim’s evil deeds long enough for him to testify. So, how does a ruthless crime lord stop a witness, traveling from Hawaii to LA, from testifying against him? SNAKES ON A MUTHA FUCKIN’ PLANE!!! Sure, it’s the equivalent of circling the world westward to get from New Jersey to New York… and yeah, it’s a plot straight out the 60’s “Batman” TV show, but it sure is fun to watch.
I’d first like to tackle the originality of this movie concept as I’ve been told many times by people attached to the film that this has never been done before. While an f-bomb shouting Sam Jackson defending a plane full of people from killer snakes has not been done, the whole peril on a plane at the hands of Mother Nature has been covered. I’d like to introduce you to Flying Virus aka Killer Buzz staring Rutger Hauer and David Naughton (of American Werewolf fame). The scenario was something along the lines of bees infected with a virus that could wipe out humanity being transported on a plane. When the bees get loose, the passengers fight for their lives in the cramped confines of their metal death trap. They also face the reality that even if they land safely, they still can’t open the doors as the bees will get loose and destroy the world. So, not to point fingers at all, but I just have to give credit where credit is due. MUTHA FUCKIN BEES, MAN!
While I did joke that this very well could have been a SciFi original movie, I’m not kidding when I explain that the concept is very much in keeping with the SciFi tradition. It’s such a ridiculous concept that you go into the movie knowing full well what you are in for (much like anything shown on SciFi, though I keep hoping for the best.) Hopefully this will allow theatergoers to loosen their brain cells enough to get past the improbability and just have a good time… because this IS a great time!
You begin with your typical big budget American movie setup where you meet several characters in the space of 10 minutes. Some you instantly care for, others you’re meant to despise, while still others have you taking bets on how quickly they are going to bite the big one (pun fully intended.) This plays out like a trivia game. Pay attention, folks! There will be a quiz later on! All the little details during these sequences always pop up in some form later on. Then you recognize that fact and go “ahhhh”… which makes you feel smart, and somewhere the director is saying, “You see what I did right there?” Once you move out of the setup sequence, the plane takes off, and it seems like only seconds before all hell breaks loose. Again, I point to the 60’s “Batman” TV show because not even the Frank Gorshin Riddler, Cesar Romero Joker, and Burgess Meredith Pengiun COMBINED could have come up with a more dastardly plan for taking out Batman in mid-flight! Seriously, they would all be clapping right now at the mere suggestion. Unfortunately, Agent Flynn is not coincidentally equipped with snake repellent, and so the chaos begins.
Snakes pour from every orifice of the two-floor plane, and with no visible means of escape the passengers meet their super sticky, downright gory, and freakishly realistic deaths. Victims swell up, quiver, and die… curled up as if their muscles all tightened simultaneously. The date you bring to this film will eventually freak out or your money back. Pick a nice crowd to hear the little girls scream! That’s always fun.
At the recent San Diego Comic Con, I was surprised when director David R. Ellis unflinchingly referred to Snakes as a horror movie. I was told that a lot of the fright in this film doesn’t come from the inevitable snake strikes but rather the after-effects of some of the deadliest poisons on the planet. I’m happy to report that Mr. Ellis delivered on both counts! Now it is damn near impossible to watch the snakes go to work without thinking of Anaconda or Boa Vs. Python, but I think that is where the film becomes genius. I mean, did you ever think you’d sit in an actual theater to watch a movie like this? In my opinion, Ellis and company have pulled off the greatest coup of 2006. Not since Edward Scissorhands has someone taken such a ridiculous sounding premise and made a thoroughly enjoyable feature from it.
The key to believability in Snakes on a Plane lies solely in the hands of its actors. Among the cast you’ll find flight attendants Julianna Margulies (of “ER” and “Sopranos” fame) and Lin Shaye (of 2001 Maniacs), passengers Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live” and “Kenan & Kel”) and Rachel Blanchard (Without a Paddle, Road Trip), and pilot David Koechner, who showed up thinking he was still playing his character from Anchorman. If this assemblage of noticeable faces weren’t enough, you’ll find a slew of actors among the cast that will have you saying, “What was that guy from…?” or “Whose girlfriend did she play?” For me at least, these connections stuck when the snakes are let loose and served to raise the tension level as you have no clue who is going to be taken down next! Passengers run frantically swatting at snakes and fellow passengers alike to get themselves to what they perceive as safety. To their credit, no two actors played it the same way.
I shouldn’t even have to mention Sam Jackson, but I will because not only was he enjoyable and delivered the forever quotable “I have had it with these MUTHA FUCKIN SNAKES on this MUTHA FUCKIN PLANE!”, but he hands in a performance that will make you believe the entire movie’s budget should go to him. The guy could have phoned this one in, but his range of emotions was fantastic. Sam Jackson delivers quips, reacts to terror, and saves the day with a level of intensity I haven’t seen since he played Jules in Pulp Fiction. “DO THEY HAVE SNAKES IN WHAT?!”
Snakes on a Plane delivers terror we haven’t seen in most modern horror films today. It’s not just the different ways a snake can creep up on you and deliver a bite, though that was pretty damn cool. It’s not just the FX guys going to town on some bubbling, twitching poison victims, though that did make me cringe more than once. It’s the “What If” factor thrown in. What happens to the guy in front when a bunch of people push down an aisle only made for single filing? What happens when a plane pitches and everything in the cabin comes loose? CARNAGE!! In reality, it wouldn’t just be the snakes you’d have to worry about.
Sure, Snakes on a Plane is about as subtle as opening the door to your house with a 50-lb. sledgehammer, but it never pretended to be. You have to respect that sort of honesty. This could have been the mysterious Pacific Air Flight 121. There is no mistaking a film called Snakes on a Plane. This is the swift kick in the ass this summer movie season has sorely needed.
4 1/2 out of 5
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And for another point of view in full-color comic style, don’t miss
Rick Tremble’s take on the film in our new feature, Motion Picture Purgatory!