Dir: David R. Ellis. US.2006. 106mins.
After all its pre-release hype, Snakes On A Plane is as wondrously sillyand ruthlessly unrelenting as one could hope. Though by no means a stellarpiece of cinema, this late-summer thriller is an entertaining B-movie gleefullystuffed with bad tough-guy dialogue, obvious stock characters, cheaptitillation and lots and lots of snake attacks.
An internetsensation that, even before its release, inspired parody songs and fauxone-sheets (not to mention fevered blogger outcriesfor more violence and profanity in the final cut), this R-rated New Line releasehits cinemas today in the US as well as the UK (through Entertainment). The initialhysterical anticipation for Snakes islikely to result in the expected large opening weekend: the question is whetherit can show real holding power, as with 1999's The Blair Witch Project, which rode a clever internet marketingcampaign to almost $250m worldwide.
Samuel L Jacksonhas a proven audience profile through the likes of the Star Wars prequels, but Snakesresolutely resides in the so-bad-it's-good category of horror howlers inhabitedby the likes of Anaconda ($65mdomestic, $71m international) and DeepBlue Sea ($73m domestic, $91m international), in which he also starred.
The playful cheesinessmay not translate as well in non-Anglophone markets overseas, but DVD shouldmore than compensate, with the inevitable bonus features charting the project'sunusual history.
When a Hawaiiansurfer (Phillips) witnesses the execution of a Los Angeles prosecutor, no-nonsenseFBI agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson) must ensure hissafe travel to the mainland. But their commercial flight to Los Angelescontains a deadly threat: poisonous snakes, smuggled aboard by an assassin whodoesn't want the witness to live to testify.
From the momentits title and logline were revealed, SnakesOn A Plane seemed destined to be the sort ofidiotic, overheated horror-thriller that audiences laugh at rather than takeseriously. But while director David R Ellis (Cellular, Final Destination 2)doesn't show much subtlety in terms of character or storytelling - the filmbarrels forward from scene to scene without a thought to pacing - he does givethe proceedings an infectious, unhinged goofiness. Snakes may feel like junk, but Ellis makes sure it's fun junk.
Originally, Snakes was to be PG-13 in the US. Then, onlinefans' demanded additional nudity, gore, and swearing and these requests havebeen faithfully obeyed. Now the camera lovingly lingers on some sauciermoments, and while a few of these add-ons feel gratuitous - at one stage wehover over a curvy woman's exposed breasts like a pre-adolescent spying on hisvery first pair - more often than not they feel part of the mission to create ashamelessly guilty pleasure.
The slightlywooden acting only accentuates the pleasing ineptitude of screenwriters JohnHeffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez's cliche-filleddialogue and the creaky effects work of the snakes. Jackson's involvementnotwithstanding, Snakes has a winning low-budget desperation and is the sort of filmthat feels the need to cram action, romance, male bonding, suspense, and grade-Zstars into every frame.
As a result, itsearnest determination to put on a show, despite its modest means, makes thisthat rare summer entertainment to possess any noticeable charm.
While the filmhas plenty of unintentional humour - the audienceexploded into hearty laughs whenever the characters tried to speak meaningfullyto one another - the incessant snake attacks turn these menacing creatures intoboth frightening and oddly thrilling villains. With Ellis finding severalclever ways to stage the assaults, the quickly escalating body count has agiddy exuberance to it as moviegoers wait to see which passengers will live ordie.
Unlike ahorror-comedy such as Slither, Snakes doesn't waste time with knowingreferences to other horror movies. Instead of being an ironic throwback tothose mediocre B-movies of the past, it is a completely acceptable, unpretentiousmodern variation: an enjoyable scare feast without a brain in its head.
Mutual Film Company
New Line Cinema
from a story by David Dalessandro and John Heffernan
Howard E Smith
Samuel L. Jackson