Directed by George Mendeluk
I can only assume that Snakes on a Plane‘s failure to prove to be as boffo at the box office as it was on the Internet leading up to its release may best explain why all those potential other BLANKS on a BLANK titles that everyone joked about beforehand never actually became a reality. I’m hard pressed to think of any other such films mimicking Snakes on a Plane’s gimmick to come out aside from The Asylum’s preemptive knock-off, the thoroughly lousy Snakes on a Train. Other than that, not much else on the BLANKS on a BLANK front has come along. Until now…
When I heard earlier this year that a made-for-television movie that could more or less be titled “Ants on a Plane” was on the way I wasn’t entirely surprised. My surprise came when it turned out the movie wasn’t a Sci-Fi Channel original, but rather a Lifetime Network original movie – a Lifetime Movie Network original movie to be exact. Were you aware there was a Lifetime Movie Network? Scary as it sounds, Lifetime has accumulated enough female empowerment, romance, families in crisis, disease of the week, men are evil, BLANK at Sixteen, and other assorted films about such topics as date rape, online predators, eating disorders, cyber porn addiction, etc. to spin-off a whole new channel devoted just to running these films on a round-the-clock basis. I’ve somehow managed to go through life unaware of this channel and would remain blissfully ignorant had I not gotten a friend who gets the channel on their satellite to record for me the world premiere of Destination: Infestation (originally titled Swarm, somebody at the network astutely realized how boring that title was and changed it) AKA Ants on a Plane, Lifetime Network style.
Destination: Infestation deals with an American plane flight traveling from Bogota, Colombia to Miami, Florida that experiences an in-flight infestation of mutant black bullet ants. Bullet ants get their name from their sting, said to be the most painful in the insect world, that’s compared to the sensation of being shot. A single bullet ant sting takes around 24-hours to recover from and multiple stings can be fatal. The writers of the movie have upped the ante by making these black bullet ants genetically different, a mutant strain described as being stronger, faster, deadlier, and maybe even smarter. Here’s how you know you’re watching a Lifetime original movie and not a Sci-Fi Channel original: the mutation is explained as a natural evolution that has occurred in response to man’s intrusion into their natural habitat and not the result of a chemical spill, radiation exposure, or some sort of scientific experiment run amok.
Then again, a graphic that appears on-screen early in stupidly misspells Colombia as “Columbia”, so I guess this still could have been a Sci-Fi Channel original after all.
Traveling aboard this flight from Colombia to Miami (on which there didn’t appear to be a single person of Central American persuasion) are the usual suspects: loud mouth college guy obsessed with alcohol, single mom with a newborn baby, young couple in love, strong-willed stewardess, ambiguously gay male flight attendant, veteran pilot, etc. Fortunately for everyone on a plane flight soon to get attacked by a horde of deadly insects, there just happens to be an entomologist aboard.
Insect specialist Dr. Carrie Ross and her pre-teen daughter are also on their way home. Daughter Jamie is a little miffed that workaholic widow mom actually believed dragging her to the Central American jungle for a little mother-daughter time in between her searching for creepy crawlies was a good idea. Dr. Ross through herself into her work after the death of her husband awhile back and now Jamie feels mom is in desperate need of a new man in her life. Good thing Antonio Sabato Jr. is also on board as Ethan Hart, a studly air marshal ever ready to help save the day from a mid-air ant attack and to fill the lonely heart of a bug-obsessed MILF.
The introduction of the romantic element is nothing short of awkward. Carrie and Ethan will have only shared screen time to talk about the ant problem and how to save the plane from catastrophe by the time they’re down in the cargo hold, at which time Ethan suddenly changes the conversation to something more personal – shamelessly making a play for this woman like a total horndog in the midst of a life-or-death crisis. It’s as if the screenwriter knew they had to work in a romantic subplot somewhere, couldn’t figure out any other place to squeeze it in, and just randomly picked this one brief moment to have the two leads suddenly fall for one another.
Problems all began with a passenger who believed he was suffering from some sort of a stomach bug. And ever! All of a sudden the guy vomits in the aisle and then next thing you know he’s covered in black bullet ants. It seems a queen ant and a few thousand soldier ants had been gestating in his guts the whole time. Don’t ask me to explain any of this. Don’t even ask me to explain the way the film’s director staged this scene. I don’t know if it was just a poorly staged scene or intentionally done so in a manner to avoid coming across too gross for TV, but the way it was filmed made it look like the ants just magically appeared swarming all over this poor guy.
After the initial freakout, the CGI ants retreat to the bowels of the plane. As Dr. Ross tells her frightened daughter, “They’re going to be a lot happier down in the cargo hold than up here where we can step on them?” Except these ants also have a taste for electrical cables and various other fiber optics. A damaged fuel valve and an electrical short threaten to blow the plane up and once word gets out that the plane is infested with an invasive species, no country will allow it to land fearing the dangerous bullet ants getting loose in their ecosystem. While Dr. Ross and Ethan square off with the ants in the bowels of the aircraft, the pilot and co-pilot make a decision to land at an abandoned airfield in Mobile, Alabama against government orders.
A movie like this has to have a human villain, right? Enter the evil Director Blumenthal. You know he’s evil because he seems to have a serious aversion to fully lit rooms. A cold and ruthless government official, though exactly what he was the Director of I missed, Director Blumenthal spouts off platitudes about what could happen if those ants got loose on American soil while displaying zero regard for the fate of the passengers. He compares the ants to terrorists and has the authority to call in military forces to potentially “eliminate” the passengers, plane, et al. When questioned by a colleague about how he’d feel if one of his family members was on that plane, Blumenthal responds with a heartless spiel about how he’s got two ex-wives and a son that won’t speak to him. His character is just a total bastard for the sole purpose of being a total bastard.
At least the snakes in Snakes on a Plane were the imminent threat to the characters. Destination: Infestation treats the mechanical damage to the plane caused by the ants gnawing on the various cables, the looming threat of running out of fuel before finding someplace to land, and Director Blumenthal’s insidious plan to deal with a potential bullet ant outbreak on US soil as a greater threat than the ants themselves. This is a nature gone amok movie that’s primarily about mechanical problems complicated by dangerous insects. That’s no fun. Which sounds more entertaining: a movie about a flight being terrorized by killer birds or a flight in peril after a bird gets sucked into one of the turbines and takes out an engine?
Even when the mutant bullet ants do attack they’re still don’t seem to be all that great a threat. The ants do make a run at the passengers a couple of times only to get beaten back through the use of fire extinguishers, hair spray, and good ol’ smushing. When it’s all said and done, Destination: Infestation’s body count will be a paltry two dead bodies; one of which was the initial guy infested with them. Several characters will get ants crawling on their bare skin yet come away unscathed after fighting them off. The pilot will fall victim to the ants, suffering numerous stings that send him into shock, and yet ten minutes later he’ll be back at the helm; so much for stings that feel like being shot, needing 24 hours to recover from a single sting, and multiple stings being potentially fatal. The moment that happened I found myself wondering, What’s the point?
Snakes on a Plane knew precisely what kind of movie it was. Destination: Infestation, on the other hand, is almost completely devoid of humor or irony. This is an instinctively cheesy nature gone amok premise that insists on carrying itself with an air of superiority, almost as if it was made by people that felt making such a b-movie to be too lowbrow. The whole production gives off the stink of a cheap rush job, Canadian-lensed TV movie of the mid-to-late 1990’s variety – the sort of tedious lameness that used to litter the cable television airwaves not all that long ago.
There is no Samuel L. Jackson here; no “I’ve had it with these motherfuckin’ snakes on this motherfuckin’ plane!” By the time the two leads were rescuing a puppy from the cargo hold that really wasn’t even being threatened by the ants I just sat there thinking, nobody involved with this movie gets it.
1 1/2 out of 5
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