Snakes On A Plane Review
Delivering exactly what you would expect from a film entitled Snakes On A Plane, this month's most anticipated blockbuster is a solid, old-fashioned B-movie - no more and no less. It's easy to see how, with a bit more work, it might have been better but the crowds who will be flocking to it based on months of hype and speculation should be satisfied that they got what they paid to see.
Samuel L Jackson plays FBI agent Nelville Flynn, who's escorting a reluctant, young witness (Nathan Phillips) to the trial of a notorious Hawaiian gangster. Booking him at the last minute onto a commercial flight to Los Angeles, Flynn and his partner figure they're safe for now but of course they're wrong. Down in the cargo hold, a crateload of lethal, poisonous snakes is heaving and hissing and waiting for a timer to blow the door open.
After a slow-ish beginning, Snakes On A Plane predictably hits its stride once the reptiles are loose. Serpents crawl out of stairwells, baggage compartments and toilets to slaughter the passengers with R-rated gusto. Famously, Snakes was shot for a PG-13 rating and later upgraded, via re-shoots and dubbing, to an R, the opposite of what usually happens to Hollywood horror films. Sometimes you can see the joins - most of the F-words are uttered when we can't see the speaker's lips; a topless girl is obviously a body double - but it was the right decision. The snake-related mayhem is as grisly and squirm-inducing as it ought to be. In fact, anyone with a real fear of the creatures should probably give this a wide berth.
As a tongue-in-cheek blend of disaster movie and creature feature, Snakes does the job nicely, building to an amusingly berserk finale that outdoes even Turbulence for airborne absurdity - aviation experts will be in fits. The film's sadistic sense of humour, which comes courtesy of David R Ellis's witty direction, is its strongest asset. Ellis knows we've come to see people get it in the neck... and the leg and the eye and places you don't want to think about, and he does a good job of staging the snake attacks and keeping them from being too repetitious.
The film's knowing, self-mocking tone allows it to get away with a lot of flaws. There are so many plot holes, I don't know where to begin listing them - vying for number one are "How did the gangster know which plane to put the snakes on?" and "Where did that enormous anaconda come from?" - but such nitpicking seems churlish.
Where Snakes On A Plane does disappoint is in the suspense department. There's surprisingly little of it, given that the film starts with a premise that should scare just about everyone who has any sort of phobia. Snakes doesn't come close to matching white-knuckle rides like Ellis's previous film, Cellular, or last summer's airborne thriller, Red Eye. I think that's largely down to the characters. Suspense requires characters on whose behalf we can feel suspense. Cellular and Red Eye introduced us to likeable, vulnerable human beings (Kim Basinger and Chris Evans in Cellular, Rachel McAdams in Red Eye) and made us identify with them. Snakes On A Plane forgets to do that.
Nathan Phillips' surfer dude isn't developed enough to be sympathetic and he has little to do once the flight is underway. On the other hand, Samuel L Jackson, in bad-ass mode, is so obviously more than a match for all the motherfucking snakes on the motherfucking plane that we can't worry too much about him either. The closest to a three-dimensional human being is Julianna Margulies' stewardess. I've admired Margulies since ER - she's one of the most inherently likeable actresses in Hollywood - and the only real feeling I had was for her. It's a shame she isn't given more to do.
In true disaster movie fashion, Snakes On A Plane has an awful lot of supporting characters, most of them obvious snake bait - it's not hard to guess who'll live and who'll die. Others are silly, one-joke conceptions, like the Paris Hilton clone with her yappy, little dog, the camp, male flight attendant, the arrogant rapper who bears a striking resemblance to Kanye West and his wise-cracking, chubby minders. If you've seen Soul Plane, some of these folk will seem familiar. They do provide some laughs (the biggest involves the Paris Hilton dog) but they tip the film too heavily towards lowbrow comedy.
Another problem is that there are just too many damn snakes. A few dozen would have inspired suspense. Instead, there are hundreds of the things, all over the place, all of them whipped up into a biting frenzy by some pheremone. Really, everyone should have been bitten to death within five minutes of them slithering en masse into the main cabin. I know, I know, I'm supposed to be suspending my disbelief but there's a level of reality on which even a film as silly as this needs to remain if you're to get involved with it.
Don't read this as a bad review. I'm giving Snakes On A Plane 7 out of 10 and recommending you switch off your critical facilities and enjoy it, if you're not too frightened of snakes (or planes). It's a decent stab at macabre, tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy and a good Saturday night entertainment, something there's been too little of lately. Do make sure you switch those critical facilities off though: Jaws, this is not, nor is it Arachnophobia, or even Deep Blue Sea - a couple of major shocks like Samuel L Jackson's most memorable moment in that movie would have helped a lot. This could have been better. I think the film-makers were so pleased with their killer premise that they didn't spend enough time developing it.