Snakes on a Train (DVD)
Starring Alby Castro, Julia Ruiz, Amelia Jackson Gray, Shannon Gayle
Directed by The Mallachi Brothers
I don't think there's anything I can tell you about the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon that you don't already know. An internet sensation based solely off of its "so simple yet so silly" title, a title that has spawned countless puns and Photoshopped posters of faux "blanks" on a "blank" style movie. One of the very first of these jokes was the most obvious: Snakes on a Train. But where you and I saw the concept of Snakes on a Train as an obvious and not particularly inspired joke, The Asylum saw opportunity.
Ah, The Asylum, the masters of the cheap DVD rip-off of big screen Hollywood movies... Well, they're masters in their tenacity to produce such knock-offs, not masters at making these knock-offs worthwhile. But as negative as I've been toward much of the Asylum's output, particularly of the past year when they relegated themselves to being the piss poor rip-off kings of the DVD universe, I actually found myself looking forward to seeing Snakes on a Train. The storyline screenwriter Eric Forsberg (who I interviewed late last week) came up with actually had the makings of a really fun b-movie, and the film's trailer made it look cheesy as all hell but in a potentially entertaining way. I went into Snakes on a Train cautiously optimistic. I came away wanting to yell, in my best Samuel L. Jackson voice, "I have had it with this motherfucking Asylum on my motherfucking screen!"
Folks, if Snakes on a Plane proves to be as lackluster as this instantly forgettable knock-off, then the backlash against it will be like nothing we've ever seen - at least not since the release of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's Godzilla abortion.
That's not to say that Snakes on a Train is all bad. Newcomers The Mallachi Bros. try as they might to work around the budgetary limitations of the typical Asylum production, but eventually they're overwhelmed by the lack of resources, which is in part responsible for the film's inability to deliver. Snakes on a Train paints itself into an unfortunate corner. It's too cheap and shoddy to be serious or scary, and it's too dull and dreary to be campy or fun. It also doesn't help that Snakes on a Train has far more train than snakes.
The plot has to do with a young South of the Border couple sneaking across the Border into the United States and then stowing away aboard a passenger train bound for Los Angeles...
Let me pause for a second right here. At no point do you ever buy for one fraction of a second that any of these people are aboard an actual train. There's nothing the directors can do - try as they might - to make up for the obviously artificial sets. The interiors of this train look more like a subway car set that got a bit of a train makeover. Lights keep flashing by seemingly on a perpetual loop outside the windows that are intentionally blurred so that you cannot see out them, an effect that only adds to the subway, not train, vibe. Strangely enough, the bathroom appears to be quite spacious, at least compared to the ones I've seen the few times in my life I've traveled by train. I dubbed this train line "Scamtrack" because if I ever paid good money to travel by train and it was as dingy as this train's interior looks, I'd feel like I'd been scammed.
So anyway, the young woman in that couple is quite ill due to having had a Mayan curse placed on her after she defied her parents' wishes by running off with this bearded guy - who himself seems to know a thing or two about Mayan mojo - rather than wed the guy they arranged for her to marry. He needs to get her to L.A. pronto to meet up with some shaman that can help take the hex off of her before it’s too late. It may already be too late because she keeps barfing up gelatinous green goo along with the occasional poisonous snake. Baby snakes are also seen swimming around inside her just under the skin.
I will say this for Snakes on a Train, there is a definite "Ick!" factor to the snake curse at first. Snakes are burrowing through her body, causing all sorts of nasty skin disintegration and disfigurements, getting puked up along with more of that nasty green stuff... The actress playing the role was quite a trooper. Other stowaways also get "infected" by her, leading to even more gory consequences. These are probably the best gore effects I've ever seen in an Asylum film, at least during the early parts of the film.
You get the impression from its previews that, good or bad, Snakes on a Plane intends itself to be more of a full-blown rollercoaster ride. Eric Forsberg's initially ambitious screenplay for Snakes on a Train, however, goes for more of a slow burn, taking its sweet time building up the unpleasantries of this woman and her curse. This isn't necessarily a bad thing although things sometimes get a bit too listless. I wouldn't call Snakes on a Train boring, but it sure as hell wasn't all that interesting either. It keeps building and building and building but never really seems to pay off. This train takes forever leaving the station; the snake stuff doesn't fully kick in until the movie is almost 70 minutes old, and the budgetary restraints reduce the snake action to real snakes slithering around while actors scream and act terrified even if the snake doesn't appear to be in any way menacing. That the highlights of the snake attacks - for purely unintentionally funny reasons - involve a hilariously phony looking rubber snake puppet biting a few passengers and attempting to swallow a young girl should tell you what a bust the snakes in a movie called Snakes on a Train are. They might not be on a plane, but these snakes are most certainly plain.
Also, I'm no herpetologist, but most of these snakes look to me like baby pythons and not some sort of deadly species of viper.
A major failing of the screenplay is that the majority of the passengers on this train are virtual non-entities. Most of them get only the most minuscule of introductions before they're later thrust into peril that isn't all that perilous. The film's biggest subplot abruptly derails the entire film around the one-hour mark so as to fulfill the filmmaker’s obligations to include some gratuitous nudity. Two nubile young females are smuggling some drugs into the country, and a lascivious cowboy hat wearing creep of a cop... Well, let's just say there's a long scene that feels more like it belonged in the first act of a women in prison film. This scene is pointless, sleazy (and I don't mean the good kind of sleazy either), wastes too much time, and doesn't even culminate in any snake-on-human action either.
The tagline on the box hails, "100 TRAPPED PASSENGERS... 3,000 VENOMOUS VIPERS!" You almost have to admire that degree of "no chance in hell we're ever going to deliver on this promise" bullshit. I could admire The Asylum's hucksterism more so if they made movies that, well, you know, were good or, at the very least, worth a damn.
One thing the movie does deliver on is the box's promise of a giant snake devouring a train. If you read my interview with screenwriter Forsberg, then you know the film's giant snake finale came about after the investors loved the DVD artwork so much they wanted it incorporated into the film's climax. And what a climax it is. The low, low, low quality of the effects, the sight of a giant snake attempting to swallow a speeding train while the passengers run for the exit, the spectacle of seeing what becomes of this giant snake - it's something alright. Damned if I can come up with a proper adjective to describe it, but it's definitely something.
As always with Asylum productions the DVD comes packed with extras: cast and crew commentary, behind the scenes feature, blooper reel, and trailers for other Asylum productions. Aside from the trailer for The Asylum's upcoming movie version of The 9/11 Commission Report (God help us all!), I didn't bother with any of these extras because, frankly, I was just too bummed out.
Seriously, you're making a cheesy knock-off of what promises to be the cheesiest pop culture movie sensation of the year, a film which has been the subject of countless jokes about knock-offs for months and months, a film whose very title has become engraved into the current pop culture lexicon; how the hell do you produce a rip-off this dispirited? As promising as the premise behind this Asylum rip-off is, you'll probably be far more entertained surfing the web and checking out any of the seemingly endless Snakes on a Plane mock spin-off posters people out there have created than you will watching the actual "mockbuster" The Asylum has made.
1 1/2 out of 5
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