Review: Snakes on a Plane

When a frightened witness (bland Nathan Philips, "Wolf Creek") to a gangland murder needs to be transported from Hawaii to Los Angeles to testify at the trial, FBI Agent Nelville Flynn (a tired Samuel L. Jackson) is brought in to escort him on the lengthy flight. On the plane, a crate stuffed with hundreds of poisonous snakes ready to kill everyone onboard has been loaded. Once the snakes are set free, unholy panic ensues on the airplane, leaving survival for the passengers and crew (including Julianna Margulies, David Koechner, and Kenan Thompson) in the hands of Flynn and his hatred of snakes and complications.

So here it is: the Internet sensation that's coasted on a bizarre stream of hipster cool for a full year now. After months of New Line Cinema suspiciously hiding footage from scrutiny, telling those demon film critics they can't view it early, and lathering up the masses with vague descriptions of actual content (preferring to let ironic fandom do all the work), "Snakes on a Plane" (IMDb listing) is finally ready for mass consumption. It's time to peel away the thick layers of earsplitting hype and focus on actual quality.

The sad truth is, does anybody really care if it's good or not? It's "Snakes on a Plane!" And for some, that's all they need.

The very idea of "Snakes on a Plane" as a camp classic that willingly leans into its own awfulness is miles more interesting than the actual film. "Snakes" is split into two tones: the first half, where the original, hacky, semi-dramatic script is closely followed; and the second half, where New Line's spring reshoots turned this PG-13 thriller into an R-rated cartoon padded up with gratuitous nudity, random cursing, and shock value snake attacks on all the human pink parts.

Director (and I use that description loosely) David R. Ellis (the mediocre "Final Destination 2," and the disappointing "Cellular") is torn between making a horror/thriller and a comedy, but he's never able to choose his favorite side. "Snakes" attempts to be scary, but undercuts the terror with stabs at broad, clunky laughs. And when the film wants to be hilarious, it traffics in irony for gags, which has about a 10-second shelf life. It feels like two scripts are doing battle here, leaving the picture a mess of jolts and punch lines, like an SNL skit that was rightfully cut just before airtime.

And if you happen to be attending the film for the snakes, stay home. Ellis and his production team boldly trot out some of the worst CG effects of the year to render the slithering horde of terror. A barrel of rubber snakes on wires would've been worlds more effective than the community college animation that's on display here.

"Snakes" thirsts to be a campy, B-movie classic, yet I'm of the opinion that you just can't buy that in a cinema store; you have to earn it through years of ridicule. "Snakes" spends the whole running time winking at itself, which, I'm told, is part of the joke. Personally, I love it when a bad movie hasn't a clue that it's bad. New Line should've gone the whole way and cast 50 Cent supported by the best drag queens in San Francisco if they truly wanted a runaway smash. Sam Jackson cursing because geek message boards demanded it and Julianna Margulies in a strange wig just doesn't ring as overridingly hilarious to me. Then again, I saw the film stone cold sober.

I guess this officially makes me a curmudgeon, but "Snakes on a Plane" is actually quite a poorly made film, and offers little entertainment value to those who aren't in on the hype. The greatest trick New Line Cinema ever pulled was convincing the world that it had something of great amusement behind its decision to hold "Snakes" from view up to the last minute. Now that the slither is out of the bag, let the yawns begin.

Filmfodder Grade: D

A mere 'D' is all you can muster?? Even if this film cannot affix itself a genre, it was awessssome. Maybe it's just the hype, but my whole theater was screamin' and cheerin' and having a grand time! SoaP! WOOT!

-- Posted by: sdrawk at August 18, 2006 11:56 PM

I agree with the person above me. I just saw it yesterday morning and I loved it! There were so many horrible aspects of the movie- all fully expected. The key to the movie was to go into the theater looking for an absurdly bad movie.

I thought that the characters that needed to make a connection with the audience were able to achieve that. The comedic elements were in their right place. And just when you think the movie couldn't get any more absurd, it comes up with something to make the viewer, and snooty alike, movie critic cringe.

Bad film making at it's best. Again, I'd love to see what Crow and Tom Servo can do with this film!

-- Posted by: Phil at August 22, 2006 11:35 AM