Snakes on a Plane (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Samuel L. Jackson is on record as saying this movie isn't for critics. He's right about that. The problem is, it's not for many other people, either. Unless they're stoned. Or drunk. Or just enjoy making fun of bad movies (in other words, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 audience). Most of the time, when a studio decides to hide a film from critics, they do so on the sly. With Snakes on a Plane, New Line Cinema has trumpeted the fact, using this marketing line: "We want the fans to see it first." Translation: we don't want any negative advance word spoiling a big opening day. They needn't have worried, however. Critics could spew bile in reviews, and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference at the box office. Snakes on a Plane is motherfuckin' fireproof. Director David Ellis has made the film he was hired to make.

I won't deny there's fun to be had watching Snakes on a Plane. With a title like that, how could there not be? The special effects are suitably cheesy, the acting is way over-the-top, and there are some great moments of lowbrow comedy. (Man or woman, imagine where you would least like to be bitten by a snake, and someone gets bitten there.) One could argue that the audience makes the movie. I would imagine this film could seem terribly lame seen in an empty theater or at home alone. A certain amount of rowdiness is almost a prerequisite.

Unfortunately, there's only so much that can be done with the concept, and that's where the film's fault lies. Okay, we have a plane. We have snakes. Now what? Half-way through the movie, the filmmakers have pretty much run out of ideas (and that's taking account that the first 25 minutes represents set-up). So they recycle. The movie does the same things during its second half that it does during its first half. Snakes attack. People drive them back. After a while, it becomes repetitive. Snakes on a Plane isn't that long - it's about 100 minutes - but that’s about twice as long as the material warrants.

Samuel L. Jackson is in fine Samuel L. Jackson form, kicking ass and taking numbers. He has his big speech moments, his bad ass moments, and he gets to utter the coolest line in the film. (It is, for the record: "Enough is enough! I've had it with these motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' plane!") There's variety in the way he dispatches his opponents: by electrocution, by fire extinguisher, by blow-torch, by crushing, and by gunshot. At no point does he yell, "Die, motherfucker!" which is a shame because it's just the kind of clichéd dialogue that would fit right in. Jackson plays FBI agent Neville Flynn, who's transporting Federal witness Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) from Honolulu to L.A. so he can testify against a mobster. The mobster wants Sean dead, so he does what any self-respecting mobster would do: smuggles hundreds of poisonous snakes aboard the plane and arranges for them to get free from their crates at 30,000 feet. William Shatner saw a goblin on the wing; these guys see cobras in the cargo hold.

There are more secondary characters than you can count on your fingers, but they're all thinly drawn disaster movie stereotypes. We half-expect Shelly Winters and George Kennedy to show up. (Or maybe Leslie Nielsen.) The only characters not played by Samuel L. Jackson who leave an impression are flight attendants Claire (Juliana Margulies) and Tiffany (Sunny Mabry), and the video game obsessed Troy (Kenan Thompson). The generic (non-Monty) python has more personality than the Frightened Newlywed, the Germ-phobic Rap Star, or the Hostile Brit. When it comes to the non-reptilian animals aboard the plane, the snakes are equal opportunity biters. A cat gets it, but so does a dog.

It has been widely reported that five days of re-shoots occurred earlier this year in an effort to provide content that would tip the rating from PG-13 to R. So we have more profanity (a couple of "fucks" here and there), more graphic snake bites, and bare breasts. All of this stuff is clumsily edited in. It doesn't take much imagination to re-construct the PG-13 cut. The film probably would have worked better if it had been envisioned as a hard R from the beginning. Also, the producers like to talk about all the real snakes used during the making of the film (allegedly more than 400), but the close-ups are so obviously cheesy special effects that no one could possibly mistake them for the real thing.

To an extent, Snakes on a Plane reminds me of Eight Legged Freaks. It has the same kind of off-the-wall, don't-take-it-seriously comedic horror sensibility. Neither film holds a candle to the best in the business, Tremors, which offers healthy doses of scares and laughs. New Line Cinema would like us to believe that Snakes on a Plane is somehow a "cultural phenomenon." This isn't accurate. There's another, better term to describe it: a cult film. That means a small, select group of people are going to love it, but the majority of viewers are going to be unimpressed. Take that into consideration before deciding whether or not to board this flight.

Snakes on a Plane (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2006-08-17
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1