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What can I say about Snakes on a Plane? You've probably heard that when pitching a movie idea, you have to be able to do it in just one sentence. But Snakes on a Plane is a movie idea that was pitched just by its title. In fact, Samuel L. Jackson signed on for this movie just because he liked the title. He threatened to leave the movie when they were going to change the title to "Pacific Air Flight 121." I have never seen an audience react to a trailer like they did to the trailer for Snakes on a Plane. So you have to wonder whether there was any chance that the movie would live up to its hype. Well, it doesn't. It doesn't even come close. The only chance was that Snakes on a Plane would be a good "bad" movie, i.e., that it would be so bad that it is funny. Snakes on a Plane is certainly bad but it isn't good.
The story of Snakes on a Plane concerns a plane with snakes on it. Unfortunately, there isn't much more to it. A lot of care and thought went into what parts of the human anatomy, particularly sexual parts, that the snakes could bite. And they bite everything you can think of, with extremely gross results. Beyond this, little thought was put into the script and characters beyond that fact that there are snakes on a plane. The plot, such as it is, concerns a tourist (Nathan Phillips) in Hawaii who witnesses a murder. The gang boss (Byron Lawson) who committed the murder, wants the witness killed. He is taken into protective custody by an FBI agent (Samuel L. Jackson) and bundled onto a plane for Los Angeles. The gang boss has arranged for every kind of poisonous snake in the world, each enraged by pheromones, to be released onto the plane in the hopes that the witness will be bitten or the plane will just crash in the chaos. On board, trying to keep the plane flying are the co-pilot (David Koechner) and a couple of plucky flight attendants (Sunny Mabrey & Julianna Margulies). Back in Los Angeles, another FBI agent (Bobby Cannavale) and a snake expert (Todd Louiso) try to prepare for the arrival of the snake-stricken plane.
Snakes on a Plane aspires to be a movie of the ilk of the Airport movies where some disaster takes place on board a plane. The plot of Snakes on a Plane, such as it is, follows Arthur Hailey's Airport precursor, Flight into Danger and its classic satire, Airplane, where the pilots get sick and a passenger is forced to land the plane. The Airport movies introduce many characters who then interact when things become stressful. But Snakes on a Plane is in such a rush to get to the snakes, that little time is devoted to character development. As a result, most people on the plane succumb to the snakes before we even know who they are. Some characters, like the only doctor on board, are introduced after they are dead.
The screenwriters and director, who I won't embarrass by naming, didn't care whether anything actually made sense. So Samuel L. Jackson shows up to protect the witness even though no one knew who he was. Then on the plane, no logical decisions are made by anyone. My favorite bit is how they leave the co-pilot alone in the cockpit (the pilot is the first to get snakebit) over and over again so that he can be attacked by the snakes. The main thing that was bothering me, of course, is that there are no snakes of any kind in Hawaii. The snake expert does eventually comment on this. The vast number of snakes (on the plane) were apparently imported to Hawaii and then smuggled onto the plane within 24 hours of the murder so that they can be used for the ridiculous murder scheme. The ending of the movie must have seemed hilarious in the screenplay. The passenger who ends up landing the plane is a guy who has 2000 hours of flight experience, all of it on the Flight Simulator program on a Playstation. It should have been funny but it wasn't. And at the very end, Jackson asks Margulies for a date but he doesn't get her phone number! I was upset, especially since the witness got the phone number of the other flight attendant.
The cast is the only strong point in Snakes on a Plane but they are completely wasted. The subplot back in Los Angeles with two good actors, Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent) and a Todd Louiso (High Fidelity) is even worse than the action on the plane. The best thing (the only good thing?) about Snakes on a Plane is watching Samuel L. Jackson and Julianna Margulies, two very good actors, play it totally straight. There is no irony in this movie. Jackson and Margulies are pretty good and almost make the movie watchable. Jackson, of course, needs no introduction. Margulies is best known as Nurse Hathaway on ER and recently did a nice guest bit on The Sopranos.
My enjoyment of this movie was heightened by seeing it at the United Artists Searstown Mall in Titusville, Florida. I went out there to see the Shuttle launch but after it was delayed, seeing Snakes on a Plane was the next best thing in Titusville. I'm thinking that, wherever you are, you can find something better to do than see this movie.