(ALTERNATE RATING – ONE STAR)
There are two things you need to know about “Snakes on a Plane” that I’m going to share with you now:
1. It has the potential to supplant “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as the greatest audience participation movie of all time.
2. It is, simultaneously, one of the worst and best movies I’ve ever seen.
After months of buildup and a marketing blitzkrieg that – quite frankly – achieved critical mass some time around Memorial Day, the release of “Snakes on a Plane” is a genuine relief, like passing a kidney stone or surviving a Republican President. Not since “The Blair Witch Project” has such word of mouth been generated about a movie that nobody has had a chance to see. Of course, in the case of the Blair Witch the creators were able to convince untold legions of gullible internet users that there was some truth behind the events of the film. In the case of “Snakes on a Plane,” there’s no such ambiguity. You’ve got snakes. On a plane.
They aren’t there the whole time, of course. First we have to sit through the obligatory (and mercifully brief) set-up which will allow the titular reptiles to get on board. As it happens, FBI agents Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Saunders (Mark Houghton) are escorting star witness Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) from Hawaii to California. It seems young Sean witnessed a murder by notorious crime figure Eddie Kim and needs safe passage to Los Angeles to give his testimony. Now, as everyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the workings of criminal organizations knows, when you want to take out a pesky witness, you don’t shoot him, or run over him with a car, or poison him. No, you bribe an airport security guard so you can sneak in a time-release crate that will loose some 500 snakes into the plane, thereby killing (one assumes) the witness, as well as any other folks who might happen to be traveling with him and who, we assume, he might have told about the crime after a few too many gin and tonics.
Assassins seem to have lost a little subtlety since the old days, though it’s hard to fault Kim’s love of the big gesture. Here’s a guy who could just as easily have put a bomb on board or smuggled a small amount of nerve agent in a carry-on, either of which would have provided the same result. Instead, he elects to go through the effort and expense involved in sneaking a metric assload of snakes onto a commercial jet. That’s the kind of dedication to your craft you just don’t see in America these days.
The film’s premise is utter simplicity, to wit: make a movie that combines two of the things human beings fear the most, in this case, flying and snakes. That’s more or less the whole enchilada. We don’t need to know about Flynn’s relationship with his partner, or that flight attendant Claire (Juliana Margulies) is –literally – one day from retirement…actually, that’s pretty relevant. In any event, you have snakes, you have plane. Sláinte. And if these “Snakes” have any box office legs beyond opening Thursday and Friday returns, expect to see the [scary thing 1] + [scary thing 2] formula replicated ad nauseum for the next couple of years.
Personally, I can’t wait for “Spiders on a Clown,” or “Public Speaking in Front of Sharks.”
I mentioned the “best/worst” dichotomy earlier, which demands the inclusion of some pros and cons. Pros: Snake-O-Vision, many varieties of serpents, and it’s a great movie to see with a (preferably drunken) crowd. Cons: shitty computer animation, the non-CG snakes are obviously non-venomous, and the whole film has the feel of a 1970s-era Irwin Allen flick. You half expect them to wheel George Kennedy out for a cameo.
If you’re planning on seeing “Snakes on a Plane,” chances are you made your mind up long ago. New Line may be spineless cowards for not giving the press a first look (especially, I might add, the internet press, who did a lot of the movie’s advance word-of-mouth duties for them free of charge), but it’s highly doubtful anything I or any of my cohorts say was going to convince you one way or the other. “Snakes on a Plane” is the very embodiment of the term “critic-proof.” Does it suck? Rock? What do you care? You get snakes biting eyes, tongues, breasts, and – yes – even one unfortunate man’s schlong. It’s hilarious, moronic, and something that must be experienced in a crowded theater. In short, it’s everything it advertises: it’s snakes on a m***********g plane.