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Friday, August 25, 2006

Snakes on a Plane, Motherfucking Reviewed

M has informed me that some folks are SoaP-averse because of its "overexposure." Well, I guess I missed it. I saw the trailer, I think, twice (and, frankly, we see more bad movies than anyone we know), I saw Samuel L. Jackson talk about it on the Daily Show twice (and he was just precious as could be in his enthusiasm). So I remained enthusiastic about the finest film produced in this or any other lifetime.


In all seriousness, this is a tremendous success as a B-movie. The additions that they made to get the R rating (shooting finished in September 2005, then when Samuel L. Jackson and the Intarwebs got a hold of things, New Line shelled out a bunch more money for reshoots for exactly this purpose) are, on the one hand, completely gratuitous and obvious, and on the other hand what prevents this from being a half-assed, toothless SciFi original picture.

For example: B-movies are all about punishment. Characters are punished for sins against societal norms (see the correlation between intact hymen and female survival in in teen horror movies): Snakes on a Plane introduces a trashily attractive couple wanting to join the mile-high club, then kills them off in grotesque, flinch-inducing fashion. (In a bold move for both gender equality and game balance, they pair a horrible bite to the faux nipple with brutal penis loss for the guy who talks to his "big guy" while urinating.) Characters also get punished for being completely self-serving dickheads: See hair-plug man who falls victim to the inexplicable anaconda for sins against disaster camraderie.

Some characters are killed to expose humanity for what it ought to be and what it can be: The older flight attendant who remains too sassy to take early retirement fulfills her "watchful granny" duty by saving a baby. A faceless passenger is not only trampled, but suffers a spike heel to the ear. And still other characters are not so much punished as killed in service to Alanis Morrisette. Here's a bit of advice: If you're not only a newlywed but also have paralyzing fear of flying? Consider the fact that Snakes on a Plan is considerably more ironic than rain on your wedding day. Also, if you sense disaster on the wing, it does not pay to be a doctor, a pilot, or anyone with any kind of useful skills whatesoever.

The extra cash spent on the R rating gives the film room to do these homages in gruesome style. I'd also add that a lot of the R material was concentrated into one section of the movie. That's not a criticism. It hits hard, early, and viciously, and it certainly threw me off-kilter. In a disaster movie, pacing can be a complete nightmare, and the injection of some of the hard-hitting stuff after the set up but before Samuel L. Jackson gets to step in worked to counteract those tendencies.

There were other things that were just goofy enough to be fun: Snake vision? Oh, I was a big fan of snake vision. Going there on each and every bite? Man, they went places I hadn't even thought of on those bites. (And M will deny this, but I'm going to have bruises on my leg from where he was digging his fingers into me against the EWWWW). Last-minute OH NO THEY DIDN'T?!? Totally caught me out. Mushy Hollywood ending? It worked.

As much as they worked the tropes of B-movies well, there were a number of appeals to the lowest common denominator that were less charming: The male flight attendant who everyone assumes is gay; the fat, nasty, make-up slathered woman; and, well, just a handful of other things were predictable and didn't add much of anything. On the flipside of that, I liked what they did with the lecherous co-pilot, which is very tired and very 70s, but they managed to string you along thinking it was nothing but that, then took it somewhere marginally more interesting.

Much as with Slither the movie works in large part because the actors are invested and they play it straight. Furthermore, the characters that you single out for potential hate in the beginning never went that way, because people brought their A game. Nathan Phillips could have easily decided that he wanted to be the next Seann GAG Patrick Williams, but instead he plays the extreme sports dude in earnest. Sunny Mabrey (as the sexy flight attendant with the worst shade of lipstick known to man or beast) likewise plays her "hitting on the cute guy in first class" with enough quirk to it that it's not completely cliched, and she plays her connections with the rest of the crew just as well.

Even though the queenish male flight attendant was a dull choice (with a duller "twist"), Bruce James gave it as much character as he could, and Lin Shaye was great as the older flight attendant. Rachel Blanchard as the rich bitch and Flex Alexander (no, really!) as the germ-phobic, self-centered, womanizing rap star have the most thankless redemption plots to play, but they're moderately fun to watch pre-redemption and they don't make a mess of it afterward (I'd give Blnchard more of the credit here than Alexander). I had no idea that Juliana Margulies was in this and while I worry what that means for her career, she wasn't phoning it in and she did nice work with the Bad Ass Motherfucker himself.

Plotwise? Oh, it's completely ridiculous, but they go with it after a single "Why the fuck would you pick such a COMPLICATED plan?" nod. Samuel L. Jackson really holds it together with his "What Now?" schtick as he moves from disaster to disaster (and the disasters are more polite than the average gang of Buffy villains, waiting their turn to attack Agent Flynn as if he were The Chosen One). And for all his assurances that he doesn't die because he's the motherfucking hero, it was nice that the passengers and crew actually did play vital (if ridiculously, and frequently egregiously wrong) roles in getting as many people as possible through). On the ground, I also salute the decision NOT to have the scientist and the FBI agent completely sniping at and hating one another, but rather having very real communication difficulties, but largely sucking it up.

And if you hate the movie, you've got to, got to, go to fucking love the music video for "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)" at the end.. I mean the pretty androgynous one? Whose inner 12-year-old doesn't need a folder with him on it? Cobra Starship? That's fucking genius!

Anyway, as you might have guessed, I had a good time. Sue me.

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Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I too had a VERY good at this one, and I don't ask for much more than that from a great summer flick .. I agree with you that, like in Slither, it helped a lot that although all the actors were in on the joke, they didn't let it show ... I think I liked Slither even more than this one, but not by much!

5:42 PM  
Blogger Matilda said...

I think I'd give Slither the slight edge, too, first of all because it succeeded (at least in my estimation, I understand that financial success is something entirely diferent) without the high-profile support. I love an underdog filmwise. And I'll admit, I just can't resist Nathan Fillion.

But SoaP was a damned good time.

5:57 PM  

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