Snakes On a Plane, an Eyeball, a Private Part, etc.
I doubt I'm the only person that received a pre-recorded telephone message from Samuel L. Jackson personally inviting me by name to go see "Snakes on a Plane," a free and brilliant promotional feature available on the film's official website, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who got more excited about a movie with such a blunt and simple title than I ever expected to be. The hype, however, was so vague I really had no idea what to expect of this movie: some said it was a spoof, some a terrifying horror, some an outright comedy.
The best advice is to ignore everything you've heard and expect only what is guaranteed by the oddly intriguing title. That way, you might just be impressed.
Otherwise, David R. Ellis's movie never really commits to any category we may try to place on it, which appears to be a safety measure to ensure everyone who views it is at least somewhat satisfied. It works, too.
The jokes and indeed spoof elements are rampant and usually very funny, and the pacing of the film helps to make the humor often appear unexpectedly. The serious side of "Snakes on a Plane" is never much of a presence, but it is there, as likeable characters die off and passionate, crisis-inspired relationships bloom among the survivors. Then there's the snakes, biting and squeezing and slithering around in a seemingly endless supply. Altogether, the result is an enjoyable experience that no audience member can reasonably complain about.
The film opens with Sean Jones, a carefree Hawaiian surfer played by Nathan Phillips, riding his dirt bike through a forested trail in Hawaii. He randomly winds up witnessing a murder near a bridge in the forest, where gang lord Eddie Kim beats an L.A. prosecutor to death with a baseball bat. Kim finds out the young man's identity and even sends an attack to his apartment to resolve the issue, but this plan is thwarted by Neville Flynn, the bad ass FBI agent played by Jackson whose job it is to "handle life and death situations on a daily basis."
After saving Jones, Flynn informs the surfer that if he doesn't fly to Los Angeles that day to testify against the mobster, Kim's thugs will have him killed immediately. Jones considers the request a little bit longer than necessary, given that those same thugs had just shown up at his apartment armed and ready to murder him, but finally agrees to testify.
Kim, however, is intent on ensuring the plane carrying the valuable witness never makes it to L.A, so he rigs up a deadly package to hide with the plane's cargo, built with a ticking clock and all. When this timer hits zero, though, there are no explosions to be heard, only snakes to be released, and only the deadliest breeds of snakes from several different continents at that. Even worse is the dispersing throughout the plane of an odorless chemical that causes "hyper aggression" in the snakes, making the creatures the type of "ill-tempered" snakes you might find circling in one of Dr. Evil's torture pits.
Once released, the snakes show up absolutely everywhere on the plane, each aiming for a different and increasingly painful area of their many unlucky victims. Some fall dead right there on the spot, others must suffer as the powerful venom eats away at their bodies, and still others die from accidents caused by the panic inside the cabin.. Whichever method they receive, however, the majority of people in the movie eventually experience some sort of horrible death.
Jackson has plenty of his now patented, yelling rants, which were often hilarious and which I'm sure 90% of any "Snakes on a Plane" audience came to see. His best line is, of course, the one which has already become synonymous with the film, even among people who haven't seen it yet: ""Enough is enough! I've had it with these motherf**kin' snakes on this motherf**kin' plane!"
That line was just one of many scenes later added to the film once it started generating a buzz, intended to raise its MPAA rating from a PG-13 to R. This rating was also easily accomplished with a rather graphic sex scene near the beginning of the film, in which a couple attempting to join the mile-high club becomes the first snake victims.
Besides Jackson, no one really gives a standout performance, though David Koechner is amusing as a semi-perverted pilot, and no specific joke can be crowned the funniest. Even so, the film is consistently interesting and surprising. There's a strong variety through which "Snakes on a Plane" plays out that keeps the jokes funny, the horror suspenseful, and the action refreshing.
Perhaps the best explanation of this film lies in the reasoning Jackson himself employed in an interview earlier this year, speaking about his protest of the temporary choice to change the movie's title to "Pacific Air Flight 121:" "It's not Gone with the Wind, it's not On the Waterfront, it's Snakes on a Plane!"