There are dozens of questions you could hurl at the plot of “Snakes on a Plane.” Don’t. Much like asking how the Christmas presents get under the tree, a true answer to the question is not nearly as exciting. So, check your questions at the door and just accept that this film is what it is. It is “Snakes on a Plane” and it is highly entertaining.
Let’s get this out of the way now. There will be plot points, or “spoilers,” mentioned in this review. If you don’t want to know anything about the plot, stop reading now. Of course, if you don’t want to know anything about the plot, you have no business watching a film titled “Snakes on a Plane.”
That said, there are these snakes … on this plane. Said serpents are on said aircraft because like all good movies, at its core, this is a tale of two men — one good and one evil.
Our hero is the incomparable Samuel L. Jackson. That’s not his character’s name, but five minutes after the credits roll, you won’t remember the name of the FBI agent Jackson portrays anyway. In fact, during the course of the movie, you will never come close to detaching yourself from the fact that it is Samuel L. Jackson running through the cabin of the aircraft tasing cobras in the face while dropping multi-syllabic curses.
That’s okay though. Not only is Jackson the knight in shining armor in the movie, he’s the gallant protector behind the movie as well. Upwards of 90-percent of the coolness of this film stems directly from Jackson’s person. Onscreen he battles snakes with broken bottles, fire extinguishers, hair spray and spear guns. Off screen he went to the mattresses to ensure that the studio didn’t change the title to the unfathomably lame “Pacific Air Flight 121.”
Jackson gets what makes this movie so great — it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a cheesy Hollywood horror flick that provides gore, graphic nudity, violence and 13-letter swear words delivered in the present progressive tense. It is completely devoid of any character or dramatic development of any kind and that is perfectly fine. This isn’t “Fiddler on the Roof.” This is “Snakes on a (M*********ing) Plane.”
That’s why the theater erupts when he delivers his famous one-liner (you know the one), and chuckles to its collective self when the script demands he pursue his love interest after the dust has settled.
The black knight in this saga is Korean mafia boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). He only appears in two scenes, though in the second he assures his fitness gurus that loading hundreds of venomous snakes onto a plane is “the only way” to off potential witness Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips).
It’s this last statement that leads one to believe Kim owns one of the greatest criminal minds in all of moviedom. Who else could have the clairvoyance to order upwards of 1,000 rare poisonous snakes, and stash them in Hawaii, where he just happened to be, in order to silence potential eye witnesses … on a plane. Genius.
Kim’s unparalleled foresight pays off when Jones witnesses Kim murder a district attorney after a longer-than-you-would-expect opening sequence featuring Jones’s unsolicited X Games audition and gads of gratuitous product placement shots of Red Bull. After a few more scenes introducing Jackson’s character, hashing out back story in record time and flaunting still more Red Bull, the fun starts to, pardon the pun, take off.
As the movie really has embraced its identity, there aren’t many surprises when the snakes are set loose. Pretty much all the people you think are going to die (the near-retirees, couples engaging in sexual activities, America haters and the obligatory “I’ll be right back” guy) in fact do prematurely meet their maker. Some of the early kills are even seen in “snake vision,” a green-tinted effect that makes one believe they too could see like a snake if they roofied themselves and then donned a pair of Vaseline-smeared night vision goggles.
Director David Ellis does a very good job of keeping his audience uncomfortable — the snakes have a tendency to chomp down on particularly tender body parts — and passengers do die non-serpent-related deaths. The latter, combined with the fact that these slithering little buggers could be anywhere, keeps fresh what could have become a stale threat. After all, though lethally poisonous, the snakes are still just small animals and don’t possess any sort of higher intelligence.
If they did possess such a faculty, they would know they shouldn’t make the fatal error of pissing off Samuel L. Jackson. It’s a common error in Samuel L. Jackson movies, and the end result is seldom a good one for people not named Samuel L. Jackson.
There are other characters on the plane besides Jackson, and some notable actors (Juliana Margulies, Kenan Thompson) as well, but none of them come close to measuring up with Jackson. Even Jones is basically a human MacGuffin, requisite solely for necessitating the snakes on the plane. The character shells are not particularly problematic, however. In fact, the extreme vapidity of the characters probably helps the overall aesthetic, reminding one and all that in no way should this film be taken seriously.
Even if you tried to take it seriously, you can’t, but really, you don’t want to. “Snakes on a Plane” is so … right! I have never watched a film deliver so thoroughly on its premise. The only thing lacking is a sequel.
Note: Those craving potential follow ups combining lethal animals and various modus operandi, ought to visit www.blanksonablank.com. The website displays the results of a challenge where filmmakers were given a random animal/vehicle combination to inspire a short movie. The winner: “Raccoons on a Space Shuttle” — fur is murder.