Subtle as an icepick in the forehead, Snakes on a Plane should serve for generations as an example of truth in advertising. There are snakes. A lot of them. On a plane. Hijinks ensue.
And ensue they do. Oh, first there’s some pesky plot to get through. In beautiful Hawaii, a local surfer dude (Nathan Phillips) witnesses the murder of a Los Angeles prosecutor by a badass criminal Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson, channeling Bruce Lee). Surfer Dude has to fly from Hawaii to L.A. so he can testify, and making sure he gets there safely is FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson, absolutely wonderful). Eddie, apparently never one to take the easy route, decides to whack Surfer Dude via a bunch of poisonous snakes on the plane.
Further complicating matters, the snakes have been make extra cranky with a pheromone circulating in the plane’s air. So instead of lying around snoozing as snakes usually do (trust me, I once had a snake as a pet and they’re not the liveliest critters), these snakes are all set and ready for action, biting anything and anyone they can find, and showing a remarkable affinity for peoples’ more vulnerable bits.
Snakes on a Plane is perhaps the perfect B movie. Just enough plot for the movie not to be incoherent, not enough to slow things down. The actors all find the right note: aware that they’re in a completely absurd movie, yet never winking to the camera or descending into camp. Jackson is perfect – aside from his now famous line, he plays the role straight, and is always calm, capable, charismatic, and a badass when he needs to be. He’s a guy you want on your side. The effects are fun – most of the snakes are obvious CGI (hint: if a snake is just calmly slithering about, it’s real; if it’s hissing, growling, or leaping wildly, it’s CGI) but that didn’t keep the audience I saw it with from screaming, jumping, and hiding their eyes. (I’m not afraid of snakes and kept remarking, “Why are you screaming? That’s a king snake! They eat mice!” For my money, the nastiest business was the bit with the high heeled shoe – ouch.)
I was delighted that the movie did not wimp out and gave us lots of gory and wince-inducing snake attacks, not to mention some cheap-thrill nudity. No half measures here.
The makers of the Poseidon Adventure remake could take a hint from Snakes on a Plane. A disaster movie isn’t about a big budget or convincing special effects. It’s about hitting the right tone, and parading just the right number of clichés. The instant we see the Snakes on a Plane passengers, we know that most of them will be Snake Chow. And that’s fine. We had the ready-to-retire flight attendant going for one last flight, the couple on their honeymoon, the young kids flying alone for the first time, the preening celebrity, the asshole businessman, and so on. All we were missing was the young girl flying to L.A. for a kidney transplant – perhaps she’ll be in the DVD extras.
Don’t wait for DVD, though. I suspect it’s a movie like Rocky Horror or Heavy Metal, that doesn’t hold up well in a home viewing environment. See it with a crowd. You won’t even have to be intoxicated to have a good time. Honest.