Samuel L. Jackson as Nelville Flynn
Julianna Margulies as Claire Miller
Nathan Phillips as Sean Jones
Bobby Cannavale as Hank Harris
Todd Louiso as Dr. Steven Price
Rachel Blanchard as Mercedes
Flex Alexander as Three G’s
Kenan Thompson as Troy
Keith Dallas as Big Leroy
Byron Lawson as Eddie Kim
David Koechner as Rick
Lin Shaye as Grace
Bruce James as Ken
Sunny Mabrey as Tiffany
Casey Dubois as Curtis
Daniel Hogarth as Tommy
Gerard Plunkett as Paul
Terry Chen as Chen Leong
Elsa Patsky as Maria
Directed by David R. Ellis
(Note: New Line chose not to screen this movie for critics in advance, invariably forcing us to sit in an opening weekend audience full of rowdy fans. Smart move.)
From the silly title and New Line’s hesitance to screen the movie for critics, most people would automatically assume that this is a poorly slapped together B-movie, meant to watch with popcorn instead of brain cells as it saps away your hard-earned money. Those skeptics may be partially right, but they may also be surprised that the movie is constantly entertaining and far less corny than the title might imply.
There’ve been plenty of airplane thrillers in recent years, but you may have to go back to the “Airport” movies of the ’70s to really get some idea what you’re in for, because it used a similar M.O. to play upon the fear of flying. Dumping a few hundred snakes on a plane without a back story would probably be a bi gauche, so we’re given a simple plot set-up of a government witness traveling on a plane in which a large crate of venomous snakes is unleashed as one of the most overkill assassination attempts ever made. Though we’re briefly shown how they get the snake on board with pheromones to drive them crazy, it’s best not to put too much thought into how impossible it would be in this day and age, since it will just ruin the fun to come.
As the various crew and passengers are introduced, you almost instinctively check off the “Airport” stereotypes from the woman traveling with her baby to the two young kids traveling alone, and you mentally note which one of them is going to survive the trip and which is going to be horrifically attacked by snakesthe *sshole in first class complaining about everything? Yeah, he’s probably a goner. Probably the effeminate, smarmy flight attendant, too. Got it.
Once the snakes are let loose, the fun really begins, as they begin slithering through the cargo hold before finding ways to infiltrate the main cabin, largely unnoticed at first. As the snakes start attacking left and right, complete mayhem ensues as the passengers panic, driving the snakes into a greater frenzy. Although it’s somewhat slow up until that point, the level of fun watching the passengers react to the snake attacks more than makes up for it, even if the pacing is sometimes off.
The good thing about the movie is that it’s full of humor from the moment people board the plane with lots of comic foreshadowing”at least it can’t get any worse” one cranky passenger complainsbut all that humor does is put you off your guard and reinforce the expected campiness. Once people start dying in violent and gruesome ways, it stops being a comedy and starts being a straight horror-thriller. Director David R. Ellis (“Final Destination 2”) certainly knows how to make the audience the most squeamish by going both for the jugular and the delicate bits with each killthe snake in the toilet plays upon many a phobiaand the production values of the CG snakes are good enough that they really do seem pretty menacing. Every single snake attack is likely to cause you to jump out of your seat, and a few of them offer the kind of gore that the most finicky horror fan expects. (Three cheers for the R-rating!)
Samuel L. Jackson won’t be winning an Oscar for his role as Nelville Flinnyou would have to be a badass with a name like Nelville–but it’s hard not to laugh or applaud at every silly line he delivers, because he takes it so seriously. That said, his infamous line about “mothereffin’ snakes” literally comes from out of nowhere and serves no purpose except to appease the expectations of fans. If it seems like it was cut into the movie at the last minute, maybe because it was.
Despite his strength as the movie’s lead, Jackson almost has the movie stolen from under him by “Saturday Night Live” vet Kenan Thompson as the friend and bodyguard to a germaphobe rapper, while comedian David Koechner also gets a bunch of laughs as the brash, sexist co-pilot that’s an extension of his previous movie roles. Julianna Margulies puts aside her Emmy-worthy TV days to play a flight attendant whose last flight on the job goes so poorly, and “Wolf Creek” star Nathan Philips is likeable enough as the nice guy we’re supposed to root for, but not nearly as convincing a character as Bobby Cannavale as the FBI agent on the ground, who has to find the anti-venom with a snake expert played by Todd Louiso (“High Fidelity”) to try to save the passengers who’ve been bitten once the plane lands.
It only stops being so much fun and starts to get corny once you get past the snake attacks and Jackson and the passengers try to figure out a way to rid the plane of snakes before landing it. Then again, the ludicrous way their plan pans out allow for a great last act action-effects sequence, and by then, you’re so caught up in characters who are far less one-dimensional than might be expected from their earlier introductions. You’ll even be surprised that passengers and crew who seemed like guaranteed snake food at the beginning have you rooting for them to survive.
All in all, this is a much better movie than anything with a name like “Snakes on a Plane” should be. It’s destined to be a high point of a dull summer and a midnight movie classic for years to come.
The Bottom Line: