Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reel To Reel: Snakes On A Plane

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" -- Indiana Jones

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Violence, One Mildly Pornographic Sex Scene In A Lavatory

Snakes On A Plane is the perfect title from a marketing standpoint. You know exactly what you're getting. Samuel L. Jackson knew too, so much he kept New Line Cinema from changing it.

When I first heard it, I thought, "that's the best they could do?" However, if you dig a little through monster/horror movie history, you'll find this lame title has precedent. A quick search of turns up flicks like The Giant Gila Monster, Bats, The Giant Claw, Mosquito, and that previous deadly snake flick, Anaconda.

All right, the title isn't that far-fetched. With Snakes On A Plane, you could go in one of several directions:

1) Straight Horror -- fill a plane with snakes and see if anybody survives to land the thing.

2) Action Horror -- same as #1, but with more explosions and at least one good gun battle with a Burmese Python.

3) Cheeseball Horror -- melodramatic screaming, lots of teenagers being bitten, lots of overacting and people struggling to pull fake plastic snakes off their necks.

4) Disaster Movie Parody -- something in the style of Airplane, but with snakes.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to go for all four at once. Snakes On A Plane wriggles between horror and self-parody, a casualty of its own Internet hype, the buzz so pervasive New Line Cinema greenlighted re-shoots of some scenes, adding Samuel Jackson's now-classic line, "I'm tired of these m$&^#-ing snakes on this m$&^#-ing plane!"

We don't even get to see the snakes until nearly a half-hour into the picture, after getting some long set-up out of the way. FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson) is on a flight from Honolulu to L.A., assigned to protect a material witness to a mob murder. The mobster wants to take the witness out using a crate of snakes set to release when the jet is far out over the Pacific. The intension here is to make it look like an accident, but it's the most contrived accident I've ever seen on a plane. Cyanide drops in the complimentary beverage would be more like it.

But summer blockbusters are not meant for strenuous mental dissection. They're meant to be enjoyed like a county fair thrill ride. But even on that count, Snakes doesn't measure up. Exotic snakes slither around and attack everything they come in contact with. But aside from the initial bitefest, the picture fails to deliver some sort of climatic snake showdown, something reminiscent of the Well Of The Souls scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. A scene where Flynn has to restart the air conditioning system after combing through the plane's cargo bay is filled with dangerous possibilities, as long dangling wires stretch all over the place... only those aren't wires, are they? Well, yeah, I guess they are. Bummer.

The film throws in some elements of the Airport films, where we're introduced to a host of passengers -- including a stuffy Brit, a Paris Hilton knockoff and two cute kids -- who are either going to get bitten, eaten, or saved. Or they're going to lead some sort of revolt. Here comes Flynn with the obligitory we're-all-in-this-together line: "Now you can stand there and be the paniced, angry mob and blame him, me and the government for getting you into this, but if you want to survive tonight, you need to save your energy and start working together."

Well they do, and they don't. It's all on our man Sam to let his charisma carry the picture. It does and it doesn't. We paid to see snakes on a plane, and we want more snakes!

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