Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Brad Johnson, Keith Stone, Billy Drago, Brad Greenquist, Wendy Carter, Gabriel Womack
Directed by Todor “Toshko” Chapkanov
Snakes on a Plane goes west … Umm, not quite.
The first half hour of the Sci-Fi Channel original movie Copperhead plays pretty much as you’d expect from your standard oater about a mysterious newcomer to a hole-in-the-wall Wild West town overrun by an outlaw with whom the stranger has a score to settle with. Then a slew of venomous copperhead snakes slither into town and the film morphs into what I can best describe as Kingdom of the Spiders meets Tremors. Actually, to be more specific, Kingdom of the Spiders meets Tremors 4: The Legend Begins – but with snakes.
“Wild” Bill Longley (Brad Johnson at his most Michael Pare-ish) rides into town talking about settling a score with an outlaw (a more subdued that usual Billy Drago). He also brings with him a warning that this tiny community is in their path an approaching swarm of killer snakes that have been cutting a swath of death across the desert. The outlaw and his gang hold “Wild” Bill at gunpoint in the town’s saloon. The unconvinced outlaw makes a deal that if the snakes arrive by high noon he’ll let “Wild” Bill ride out of town; otherwise, they’re going to settle things with a high noon gunfight.
Drago’s outlaw will exit the film a third of the way in and not in either way you’d expect his character to depart the film. From then on, once the snakes arrive, what had played like a fairly straight forward western develops a campy Tremors riff with “Wild” Bill and a small ragtag contingent of townsfolk including the sheriff, some local businessmen, harlots, gunslingers, and a couple leftover outlaws having to make a stand against the slithering horde. This will involve dynamite, Civil War era flamethrowers, and a Gatling gun that fires so pitifully slow they’d have been better off sticking with handguns. And because this is a Sci-Fi Channel snake movie you just know there has to be a really big one lurking about somewhere.
Chalk Copperhead up to being a pleasant surprise, a perfectly watchable time killer that won’t stick with you afterwards but you’ll still have a good time watching it. Sure, it’s got plenty of flaws: the snakes don’t get much screen time and are never terribly threatening; too many CGI snake shots to boot, characters are mostly western archetypes. But the cast shows real enthusiasm and together they have genuine camaraderie, the movie just breezes by, and there are genuinely funny moments, particularly involving the idiot sheriff and a luckless outlaw named Roscoe.
Funny how so many of these Sci-Fi Channel movies are shot in Bulgaria by American filmmakers and the one time a Bulgarian (longtime Sci-Fi Channel movie second unit director Todor Chapkanov) actually helm one of these endeavors himself he shows a more deft hand at keeping the pace swift and breezy than many of this US counterparts.
Writer Rafael Jordan’s script is the exact opposite of his last stab at penning a Sci-Fi Channel original, Wraiths of Roanoke, which was stuffy and dull. This time out he’s given us a lighthearted Wild West nature gone amok monster movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The dialogue may be a little too peppered with clichéd Western lingo that makes certain lines sound particularly labored but his script avoids many of the clichéd pitfalls that plague so many of Sci-Fi’s films. Nothing groundbreaking. Just a slight deviation from the same old, same old.
I seriously doubt those watching Copperhead will feel the need to yell, “I’ve had it with these motherfuckin’ snakes in this motherfuckin’ Western!”
3 out of 5
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