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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Snakes On A Plane" (2006)

At this point, it’s hard to think of “Snakes on a Plane” as just a movie. I didn’t read any blogs or message board rants about it over the past year. I heard a little about it, laughed about it and, in the past couple weeks, marveled at the absurdity of it all as the movie’s behind-the-scenes antics took a life of their own. It’s a bit strange to me that in this age as Hype has taken on many forms that people would look at all of this and say to themselves, “It almost doesn’t even matter if it’s good or not.” It won’t matter in its opening weekend, that’s for sure, but a few weeks from now when the madness has died down and we can all laugh at ourselves for taking part, that’s when it will matter. Did this movie turn out to be any good? Is it even good Bad? Or did we just need something to laugh at?

I, for one, have already moved on. Now before you pigeonhole me as an elitist, snobbish film critic, let me just say that I’m not about to go into a long-winded review of this movie with references to “character development” or “mise en scene.” I didn’t come here for that. I came to “Snakes on a Plane’ to have a good time, just like the rest of the herd. The problem I had was that I was never quite sure what kind of good time I was supposed to be having. It’s a B-movie, certainly, but it’s too self-aware and restrained. It’s a horror- comedy, but can’t seem to make either genre work. It’s a crowd-pleaser (assuming the crowd is made up of “fans”), but the crowd with whom I sat seemed to just applaud and laugh as though the film had its own APPLAUD sign flashing before them.

“Dude, Samuel Jackson just said ‘motherfucker’! This movie rules!”

Yes, the plot is what everyone says it is. Simplistic, dumb and full of simplistic, dumb possibilities. Samuel Jackson plays Neville Flynn, an FBI agent who must escort a young eyewitness (Nathan Phillips), who had seen the murder of a prosecutor by a notorious crimelord. They board a flight from Hawaii destined for Los Angeles. In order to try and kill Sean before he can testify against him, the crimelord sets in motion a plot to unleash a gaggle of vicious snakes in hopes of killing everyone on board and having the plane crash into the ocean.

Wackiness, terror and mayhem ensue as many of the passengers try to survive an inescapable snake attack. At one point, a snake gets put in a microwave, to which the audience laughed and cheered, as though “Gremlins” never even happened. The good news is that there are no likable people on this plane, so it’s just as well they all die of poisonous snakebites. I’m pretty sure that’s the point, but the movie has no imagination as to why. It’s pretty much a standard grab-bag of cultural stereotypes: The rapper and his entourage, the socialite with the cute little doggie in her purse, the effeminate male steward, etc. David Koechner, as one of the pilots, brings to life the only character with any real charm.

David R. Ellis directed the film (as well as hundreds of bloggers who offered suggestions), and he has proven himself a solid craftsman of action set pieces in otherwise cheeseball movies (“Final Destination 2 and “Cellular” are great pieces of trash). He would seem to be an ideal candidate for this movie, but he’s not able to mix tones as well as, say, Joe Dante or Peter Jackson, to make this a successful B-movie. It seems too concerned with being everything to everybody. The first big snake attack scene is, admittedly, fun to watch, but after a while we’re stuck with a one-joke concept that got old months before the movie came out and gets older still as the movie wears on. As a scare-fest, “Snakes” doesn’t work simply because computer generated snakes (as we’ve learned from countless PG-13 horror movies) are not scary. A director with a greater sense of the absurd could have made this movie fly.

New Line has publicly stated that the critics are not the audience for this film and have therefore decided to hide it from them. They want “the fans” to see it first. I watched this movie with what I think were “fans” (Thursday night, before the official opening day). It’s hard not to think of some of them as scientifically bred sheep constructed in the marketing department at New Line headquarters. They seem to want to create a “cult film,” except that they failed to understand that a true movie cult is formed slowly, not created instantaneously. “Snakes on a Plane,” even with its laughable backstage shenanigans, feels like a carefully constructed marketing ploy by a studio that has gone to unprecedented lengths to sucker in as many people as possible on an opening weekend.

Will the movie be better remembered as a movie or as an internet phenomenon? Too soon to tell. We’ve been told by bloggers, Samuel L. Jackson and countless hipsters to embrace the film because of its title and concept. Parts of the movie work, but not near enough to make it a classic and certainly not enough for me to want to jump on the Bandwagon of Irony. Yes, I’m glad it’s Rated R and not watered down PG-13 tedium. I just can’t help but wonder what Ronny Wu had in mind for this project before it got taken away from him. He had in mind a “crazy, mad Hong Kong version.” Now, that sounds to me like a cult B-movie worth cheering for.

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