David R. Ellis
Samuel L. Jackson - Agent Neville Flynn
Julianna Margulies - Claire Miller
Nathan Phillips - Sean Jones
Flex Alexander - Clarence Dewey
Rachel Blanchard - Mercedes Harbont
Kenan Thompson - Troy McDaniel
Bobby Cannavale - Agent Hank Harris
David Koechner - Rick Archibald
Lin Shaye - Grace Bresson
Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/B-Movies/Action/Bad Animals/Snakes
Running Time - 109 Minutes
This review can also be found at the awesome That's Not Current
2006’s SNAKES ON A PLANE celebrates its tenth anniversary this week, still remembered for one line of dialogue that has become a meme that will live forever as long as there is an internet. I still remember when this movie with the silly, yet straightforward title was announced. As it starred A-lister Samuel L. Jackson in the lead, as well as other familiar faces in the cast, many people weren’t sure what the deal with this film was. Was SNAKES ON A PLANE a serious film with a dumb title? Or was SNAKES ON A PLANE a B-movie schlock-fest with big time actors dumbing it down for a paycheck?
SNAKES ON A PLANE had a ton of hype going for it that almost rivaled 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT at times. The legend that the film was actually a drunk idea to see what would be the worst film idea ever created, yet greenlit by New Line Cinema, is just fascinating. The silly trailers added to it. The music video starring Cobra Starship, Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds, and Travie McCoy of Gym School Heroes captured the cheesiness of the film. Even Samuel L. Jackson and director David R. Ellis (FINAL DESTINATION 2, CELLULAR, SHARK NIGHT) promoted the hell out of the film, endorsing fan made trailers, parodies, and anything that seemed to be honoring the film’s existence. But despite a massive theater count opening weekend, a large internet buzz, and even a surprising 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, SNAKES ON A PLANE was a massive disappointment for New Line Cinema as it only made $62 million on a $33 million budget. While the famous line of dialogue had a life on its own, the film itself has been pretty much forgotten by many due to recent B-movies like SHARKNADO and LAVALANTULA.
Many have claimed SNAKES ON A PLANE failed because it’s a terrible movie with an awful title. But does this film deserve the venom some have given it, or is it a misunderstood masterpiece?
While having a holiday in Honolulu, Hawaii, adrenaline junkie Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) witnesses a mob hit led by Eddie Kim (Bryon Lawson). Sean escapes, but is now a target and a leading witness to put Kim behind bars. During an attempted murder, FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) saves Sean, putting him under his protection. Wanting to stop Kim, Flynn decides to take Sean back to Los Angeles, commandeering the first class portion of a flight to protect him.
Unfortunately, Flynn and Sean are unaware that Kim’s men have planted a lot of venomous snakes as cargo aboard the plane. Using a pheromone, the snakes are unleashed mid-flight, destroying the control panel and attacking anyone aboard on the plane. Now in peril, Flynn must find a way to stop the snakes, save the passengers, and land the plane while keeping Sean safe enough to testify.
Despite its dumb title and silly premise, SNAKES ON A PLANE has a lot going for it. The film never tries to be what it isn’t, constantly being entertaining whether it tries to be somewhat serious or hilariously chaotic. The screenplay by Sebastian Gutierrez and John Heffernan embraces all the silliness you’d expect out of a film like this, while never trying to insult one’s intelligence and actually trying to tell a good story. While the script does attempt at some serious moments of character development and tension, SNAKES ON A PLANE is at its best when it throws all logic and sense out the window. Once the snakes appear, the film never lets up. Watching CGI snakes stop a couple from experiencing the Mile High Club, bite a man’s penis, and caressing a woman’s leg while she sleeps with arousal definitely earns its humor. Plus snakes in barf bags, snakes in oxygen masks, snakes eating small dogs, and snakes squeezing the life out of jerks we hated anyway is always a fun time. Gutierrez and Heffernan went all out taking a concept that was meant to be terrible to begin with and turn it into something charming, fun, and entertaining. Unlike another disaster film that was released around the same time, POSEIDON, SNAKES ON A PLANE takes the sub-genre into a B-movie territory and doesn’t feel ashamed about it.
Of course, the screenplay has some funny bits of dialogue. How can you not laugh when a man pulls out his penis and asks it, “How’s my big boy?” We also get a makeshift pilot towards the end, with the audience believing he took actual lessons – but in reality, this character learned how to fly by playing video games on his Playstation 2. And of course, we get that line by Samuel L. Jackson, which has become bigger than the film itself.
Even after ten years, I still laugh at it. So great.
Speaking of Samuel L. Jackson, SNAKES ON A PLANE would be a massive failure without his presence. Many people wondered why Jackson signed on to a film like this, considering he’s a huge A-list star who could probably do any film he pleases. But Jackson knows exactly what film he is, acting seriously during the serious moments, and hamming it up when the film calls for it. He keeps the film grounded and makes for a great lead in a silly film like that. The other actors are a mixed bag, only because I’m not sure if some of them are being intentionally bad, or just are. Julianna Marguiles plays it straight, adding a bit of quality to the acting. Same with Bobby Cannavale, who plays it seriously in a way that he tries to go against the cheesiness of the script while coming across just as cheesy. Not many actors can do that. Kenan Thompson is a highlight, playing the film for laughs and has some good one-liners. Flex Thompson and Rachel Blanchard come across as really terrible actors, but I think it may be intentional. And it’s cool to see Lin Shaye, David Koechner, and Taylor Kitsch on board. Considering the kind of film this is, SNAKES ON A PLANE has a pretty cool cast of people we know.
David R. Ellis is the perfect director for a film like this. Ellis knows exactly what type of film he’s making, directing everything firmly tongue-in-cheek and having fun doing so. The snake attack sequences, even after all these years later, still work surprisingly well. I found them to be full of tension and suspense even throughout the chaotic comedy. The CGI snakes haven’t dated well, as you can really tell which snakes are real and which ones aren’t. But compared to recent films like SHARKNADO, the effects are still slightly better. And we get the usual disaster film cliches with the plane almost crashing, and the survivor’s guilt that turns the characters into fighters. Ellis knows he’s making a big budget schlock film, but still manages to infuse it with charm and class, caring about turning a stupid script into a good film.
Ten years after the fact, it’s quite obvious that SNAKES ON A PLANE desperately wanted to be a modern cult film. In fact, it tries a bit too hard at times. Just the famous Samuel L. Jackson line alone gives that fact away. And what about that film title? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I prefer my cult films to earn that respect organically. SNAKES ON A PLANE is a great title and a damn original premise for its time, I won’t fault the producers for that. But you can tell that New Line Cinema was banking on the internet hype to make this film a cult classic, rather than just letting us viewers decide that for ourselves.
I also felt that while Bobby Cannavale’s performance was good, his more serious hunt-and-chase scenes ruined the film’s fun flow. These scenes are important for the film’s final act and its resolution, but transitioning right from comedy to a dramatic scene is a bit jarring. Plus, these scenes weren’t particularly interesting or fun to watch. Like I mentioned, I get why they exist. But these scenes felt like they belonged in another movie, rather than the main SNAKES ON A PLANE film.
I also felt the film slowed down towards the end, losing steam by the final act. The middle portion of the film is full of snake action, but we don’t get much of it near the end except for a few moments. Say what you will about those SHARKNADO films, but you’ll most likely always get shark action even during the more serious scenes. SNAKES ON A PLANE needed more snakes doing more things on a plane, in my opinion. You went all out with the premise and the film’s title. You might as well do the same when it comes to the story and direction on film.
THE FINAL HOWL
Look, if you’re going to watch a film like SNAKES ON A PLANE you can’t expect some Academy Award level filmmaking here. While it’s not perfect, SNAKES ON A PLANE is a really fun movie for the most part and still holds up very well ten years later. Samuel L. Jackson is still great, the snake action and direction still works, and it’s nice for a bigger budget film to embrace it’s B-movie status without a care. SNAKES ON A PLANE gives you what you’d expect, and that’s more than fine with me. It’s an entertaining movie and nothing more.
3 Howls Outta 4