Snakes on a Plane

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 09/01/06 21:27:47

1 stars (Total Crap)

The above is the sound of several thousand internet geeks sneaking off shamefully.

If you are reading this, I can safely assume that you are a) familiar with the internet, and b) interested in movies. In that case, I can also assume that you are familiar with the massive hype over 'Snakes on a Plane'. The film whose title was apparently so funny that several million geeks with nothing better to do, creamed their pants the instant that they heard it. This then led to countless mock posters, t-shirts, video spoofs and songs being produced, with perhaps the biggest influence of these fans, being a line inserted into the script during reshoots announced by New Line when they realised just how much fevered interest there was in the film, just because of the title - (but if one more person says to me, "Yeah, it'll be brilliant because it's SNAKES...on a PLANE!!" then I will have no other option to hit that person repeatedly. Quite why snakes being on a plane is the sheer alchemy of cinematic genius, I'm not sure).

And now it is here, and as it rapidly spirals down the box office charts, several thousand of these geeks are having to face up the uncomfortable truth. 'Snakes on a Plane' sucks. Massively. And not in a good way.

Now I know what you're thinking. I'm the kind of critic who can't cut loose and just have fun in a cinema or enjoy a good b-flick. To which I would reply you're wrong, wrong, wrong on every count. 'Tremors' may just make my top 20 list of all time. 'Them!' wouldn't be too far behind. 'Eight Legged Freaks' smacked a stupid grin on my face from the first miniute to the last. And I could happily watch 'Dog Soldiers' every night of the week. No, my problem is that 'Snakes on a Plane' does not have a single trace of the wit, charm, verve and style that the above films do.

For those who have somehow managed to avoid all knowledge of the film, the plot is simple itself. FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L Jackson) is transporting a witness from Hawaii to LA to put away notorious gangster Eddie Kim for murder. Also on the flight is plucky stewardess Julianne Marguiles (on her last flight, wouldn't you believe) and sleazy pilot David Koechner (who regrettably doesn't shout "WHAMMY!!" at any point, although it would make for much more of an entertaining film if he did). And yes, there are tons of snakes on board, all released with the purpose of wiping out the witness and downing the plane into the ocean.

Now, one thing you would expect is that with this set-up is that director David R Ellis would have a lot of fun with the potential he's given here. After all, this promise of fun is what has whipped so many people into such a frenzy. It's probably the biggest surprise then, that 'Snakes on a Plane' is just no fun whatsoever on any level. Ellis engineers no tension out of the situation, happily blocking away the snakes from the passengers for a great deal of the time. It's actually astonishing that the film could fail on such a basic level, but fail it does. A trip through darkened, claustrophobic conduits to fix the air conditioning, has absolutely no interest to it, no scares, and no near misses to keep us gripped into the story. Apparently Ellis has also been suckered into the conception that simply putting snakes onto a plane will be enough.

It isn't however, and he displays precisely zero creativity when it comes to the attacks. Part of the problem is that as the snakes are so blatantly computer generated they don't generate any fear at all, even en masse. Instead, the effect is rather more like the giant friendly snake at the beginning of the first 'Harry Potter' film. The dispatch of various passengers, which should after all be the very meat of the film, then becomes a very repetitive and boring series of extras screaming as a CGI snake is placed onto various bits of anatomy. There is no variety, no genuine surprises, and no shocks. Even the most creative disposal of a snake is cribbed straight from 'Gremlins'. Rarely has a horror film so failed to make me squirm or jump even once. Where it should be charged with a demented glee, it's instead filled with a self-satisfied torpor.

So if it fails totally on the horror/excitement level (even the climax, revolving around landing a damaged plane, is far less gripping than the climax of 'Airplane!". Indeed.), then it must work on the comic level? Wrong again. Apart from THAT line, there isn't a single quotable moment, or legitimately funny sequence. Sure, there are dick, boob and ass jokes - but you could see 'Little Man' for those.
What the film-makers don't seem to understand is that the very b-movies they are looking to copy, were funny despite themselves. Those movies had a sincerity to them - even the best (or worst) of Ed Wood - because they aimed high, despite their lack of a budget or massive talent. 'Snakes on a Plane' however, aims deliberately low, and comes across as offensively smug instead. Remember how 'Tremors', to pick a random example, had the brilliant chemistry of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, a witty script, and a genuinely great clutch of supporting characters? 'Snakes on a Plane' has none of these things. It has a performance from Jackson to rank alongside those of 'Basic', 'The Man' and 'The 51st State'. Watch the scene where he makes a call to his desk colleague in LA and tell me you don't cringe at Jackson's delivery of the awful, awful dialogue. There is no wit here, no sly subverting of the genre, just a bunch of film-makers slapping themselves on the back for being so clever for being so wilfully stupid.

And the funny thing is, I saw 'Snakes on a Plane' with a large group of people, who had obviously been sucked into the hype. They started off hooting with laughter at the most random of things - Jackson's first words, Eddie Kim saying he was going to LA - but then a strange thing happened. The laughter became more forced and strained, such as when a camp air steward shows off some kick boxing moves, to the point where you could tell that they were embarassed by a lot of the film. Sure, they cheered and clapped at the line - but what does that say about them? Applauding a single line of dialogue - that they knew was coming months in advance. The line isn't even particularly funny, and the way that the film cuts to a huge close-up of Jackson for it just illustrates just how much the film loves itself. My, what a vile, smug, film this is.

Now it is here, disappearing quickly, and the several thousand geeks can now clean themselves up, change their pants, and go back to their bedrooms. For the rest of us, mercifully, the world can go back to normal. A world where films are made by directors and writers and not a bunch of fanboys who aren't as funny as they think they are. A film that isn't just a lame catchphrase, trotted out to get a tired laugh. Now wouldn't THAT be something worth getting excited about?

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