01/09/2006. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
It's rather tempting to see what all the fabricated fuss was about in reference to the high altitude horror show Snakes on the Plane, says Frank. Unless you were hiding under a rock on some disclosed island getaway, the Internet-based buzz about this particular movie was running rampart months before the revered reptiles took off on the runway of entertaining speculation.
Let's just say that it was pretty hard not to hear anything about this cheesy air-bound actioner where word slithered about that this movie would make the most ardent guilty pleasure seeker giddy with abandonment. Well, it is late in the summertime cinema sweepstakes and throwaway entertainment such as Snakes on a Plane is about as welcomed as Dr. Scholl footpads for fatigued desert nomads.
Granted that besides the manufactured word-of-mouth that gave incredible birth in cyberspace prior to its late August release, Snakes on a Plane had other appealing factors to consider. First of all, box office badass Samuel L. Jackson is on board to add to the feisty festivities complete with his energetic vitriolic presence (not to mention an already popular yet unprintable Jackson-esque catchphrase for the movie ages "I've had it with these mutha &^%$# snakes on this mutha $#%@$ plane!). Secondly, the movie's catchy title is just begging for curious moviegoers to dare to partake in the glorified absurdity. Plus, the potential Ed Wood-like vibes is clear and present-potentially glossy bad B-movie overindulgence made to pacify the awaiting mindless masses.
Director David R. Ellis and screenwriters John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez have an instant flair for combining the slimy suspense with that of its comic-tragic overtones. Naturally, Snakes on a Plane has its high gear resonating when depending on its sleek dosages of schlock value. Actually, this aerial showcase isn't as hackneyed as expected. Granted it strains occasionally in the shock-to-the-system department and tries to be too hip in its cavalier mode. Still, this infectious high-in-the-sky thriller radiates with an exploitative off-the-cuff sly wink that's both calculating and campy. The gimmickry of belly-crawling creatures combined with boisterous Jackson's on-screen exasperation is indeed one explosive occurrence too many in the crowded cockpit.
Jackson plays Neville Flynn, an FBI agent assigned to escort surfer Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) on a red-eye flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Apparently Sean is a murder witness and his testimony is desperately needed to put away crime boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). And so what is the best way to see that Flynn and his guarded accomplice experience a woefully bumpy flight thus making it difficult for the tandem to reach the mainland? Simple...Kim's henchmen plant an abundance of poisonous snakes in the plane's cargo bay hoping that the crawling critters would escape and terrorize the passengers-specifically jeopardizing Flynn, his partner and the targeted Sean. As predicted, the sassy serpents would comply with the sordid plans and make this a hellish journey that Flynn and his fellow airline travellers won't soon forget.
As imagined there's a host of colourful personalities to soak up the venomous venue. As the fanged miscreants creep through countless corners and crevices which adds to the obvious tension, we're introduced to flight attendant Claire (Emmy-winning actress Julianna Marguiles) whose last fly girl routine (she's off to law school as a new career) she hoped would be quick and uneventful. The movie doesn't waste any time pointing a brief spotlight at the plane's diverse prototypes before and after the carnage. We are treated to a few "notables" such as the fidgety rap star, giddy newlyweds, two lonely adolescent passengers, a mother-baby tag team and a spoiled gal and her trusty pet dog...just to name a few.
As we are constantly reminded the real scene-stealers are the snakes themselves (both real and CGI stand-ins). The intrusive camera allows the audience to feel the claustrophobic chilliness of the trapped victims as the rambunctious reptiles invade the confined spacing imaginable. Whether eerily played for deadpan laughs or outright sadistic nervousness, Ellis pours on the skin-wincing theatrics as the abundance of snakes are lusciously photographed in all their gore, grime and glory.
The madness is wildly inspired in some pockets of excitable intrigue. If only the filmmakers took the time to elevate Snakes on a Plane beyond its conventional feel then the movie would have been more palpable in its pre-packaged hype. Yes, some opportunities were missed but for the most part Ellis and company have forged ahead with what looks like a future cult favourite in the making.
Fans won't be disappointed in Jackson's stylish swagger. Clearly, the actor is having a raucous time as the harried hero dealing with these mischievous monsters slithering their menacing way into our morbid mindset. The measure of outrageousness is weighed down in silliness, slime and hints of satire pertaining to the redundant airplane-related disaster flicks. Snakes on a Plane sizzles as a movie-making marketing campaign in terms of its textured turmoil dipped in triviality. But had it creatively bit into its rollicking ridiculousness with more ambition and celebrated drive, this slight but satisfactory escapist nail-biter could have had a better landing in its diverting delirium.
If you don't mind wasting brain cells on this high-powered and hasty thrill ride, maybe you wouldn't mind having a snake charmer book your next flight arrangements. Somehow we're sure that movie bad boys Neville Flynn and Indiana Jones probably would decline to purchase a plane ticket in this dreadful instance.
© Frank Ochieng 2006