Snakes on a Plane arrives riding a wave of internet-generated hype and, I gather, a massive confusion of expectations. The pre-release proliferation of art, videos, songs, t-shirts, and other DIY media celebrating the film's unabashed conceptual simplicity (and fortuitous hiring of Sam Jackson
in a leading, snake-busting role) indicates excitement, yes, but the nature of their devotion -- what the "fans" actually want from this movie -- remains something of a mystery. Are they hoping for an unintentionally awful cheesefest -- a big-screen, Sam Jackson-starring version of a direct-to-video feature? Or something less low-rent -- a campy but faintly self-aware horror show? Maybe an all-out self-parody in the vein of Con Air? Are the Snakes on a Plane faithful B-movie buffs or studied ironists?
Most likely the fan base features a healthy mix, which means they have a 50-50 shot at either enjoying Snakes on Plane for incorporating traces of all possible techniques, or feeling disappointed when their preferred approach gets the short shrift. Full disclosure: I couldn't describe my interest in watching Jackson fight snakes as anything but sincere. Article continues below
The catch-all nature of Snakes on a Plane shouldn't be a major surprise. As its title entices in the manner of a lost '50s or '60s exploitation film, it's recalling a bygone era of drive-ins and double bills. Most of Hollywood's cheesy B-pictures in the post-Bruckheimer era are pricier, star-heavier, and quasi-self-aware, with cheesy jokes in place of cheesy straight-faced seriousness.
Thankfully, some of the cheesy jokes in Snakes on a Plane work; director David Ellis
has shown an affinity for giggly mayhem in Final Destination 2 and Cellular. The setup of Snakes is as cheerfully preposterous as Ellis's previous films -- in case you require more than four words, Jackson plays an FBI agent who must protect a murder witness (Nathan Phillips) on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles; the murderers decide that the most effective penetration of the FBI's defenses involves time-released crates full of poisonous snakes. Our awareness of the impending snakes makes the movie's ridiculous first half-hour more fun than it should be; it's almost inherently funny for a movie called Snakes on a Plane to have non-snake scenes at all.
Once those snakes finally slither loose, in a stunning and, if you're still dealing with your brain at this point, mind-boggling variety, the film lets loose with an equally mind-boggling variety of snake-bite scenarios. The narrative isn't as driven as Cellular, but Ellis knows his way around crowd-pleasing mayhem, dashed with a little gratuitous sex and gags. At this point, Snakes on a Plane has delivered absolutely everything that it promises. The rest of the movie -- swift, fun, and somewhat less taut than you might hope -- is just additional B-grade imitation-cheese topping.
Jackson's presence, much-celebrated in the pre-release hype, certainly goes a long way in elevating the movie beyond late-night HBO fare (though the cast is surprisingly large and decent for a movie with more snakes than people). It's not that Jackson's performance is particularly captivating; in fact, he has only a handful of ass-kicking moments in a movie whose existence has created an insatiable appetite for said ass-kicking. It's Jackson himself who just plain shows up and seems to have a good time, spitting out his reshoot-added swear-words with gusto. (Contingent on your venue, this could be the critical point in the Rocky Horror-like audience participation.)
Though Snakes on a Plane is never less than entertaining, the best snake action is (spoiler alert) mostly over by the final act, and once the excitement of violence, sex, snakes, and Jackson subsides, it's admittedly difficult not to feel a little like a kid the day after Christmas. After all, Snakes on a Plane is more or less the last word on cheesy snake thrillers, to say nothing of thrillers wherein a ridiculous number of animals are loosed in a confined space. Prepare for a long hibernation lasting at least until the next "versus" movie. Fortunately, the end of Snakes provides more grist for the internet prodigies who might have more fun with anticipating anyway. Let's get the ball rolling on Snakes on a Plane Go Hawaiian.