Snakes on a Plane (2006)

Snakes on a Plane. It’s a title, it’s a catch phrase, it’s a way of life. For a tiny horror movie with a blunt title, this flick has caught the imagination of Internet geeks everywhere, myself included. I couldn’t believe the movie was real at first, but then I slowly got onto its weird wavelength and brought my friends along too. For the past year buzz and hype’s been building, fans have made their own songs, T-shirts, trailers, and potential sequel titles (the equation is [animal] + [location]). Due to such unexpected rabid fan support New Line Cinema spent 5 days shooting additional scenes of gore and nudity to bump Snakes from a PG-13 to an R-rating. It’s hard to squeeze in a lot of nudity into a movie predominantly set on a plane not owned by Hugh Heffner. But has Snakes on a Plane run the danger of peaking before the movie ever opened?

FBI Agent Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) is transporting a witness to a murder. The big bad Hawaiian gangster doesn’t want the witness to testify against him. His solution is elegant in its ludicrousness: the gangster has stashed a hidden supply of various poison snakes in the plane’s cargo hold. A timed release sets the snakes free to slither around the flight and bite as many passengers as possible. Flynn reports to his base, “You know all those scenarios we counted for, well I’m smack dab in one we didn?t count on.” You see, no one suspects snakes on a plane.

The big question is whether Snakes on a Plane is just another bad B-movie that will line a video store shelf or a truly So Bad It’s Good Movie. In the accompanying months, this movie has caught on like wildfire by hipsters looking for grand, ridiculously stupid entertainment with a wink. Snakes on a Plane is indeed ridiculously stupid but it does so without the wink. The movie never steers for camp, which is sad. This is more like the silly trifles that routinely air on the Sci-Fi Channel (in anticipation, the network aired a whole night of cheesy direct-to-video reptile thrillers). There’s nothing wrong with those dumb escapist flicks, but then again there?s nothing essentially special or memorable about them.

The real funny thing is that if you haven?t seen Snakes on a Plane already, you’ve probably missed the best reason to go see it. This is the type of So Bad It’s Good movie that needs to be seen in a theater with a rowdy crowd, ready to hoot and holler at the mass stupidity on display on the big screen. This is an experience that demands to be shared with like-minded individuals in shared derision. I doubt it will translate as well on DVD. Something will be lost if you ever watch this movie by yourself (even more will be lost if you’re sober).

Without the rowdy viewing atmosphere, the movie itself sort of sucks. The acting is all over the place, the CGI is at times painfully fake like they had a rushed deadline, and the action gets a tad repetitious. You can only watch snakes bite people for so long before it all gets old. People get bit in the face, eye, tongue, neck, ass, breast, and, in one very unfortunate circumstance, the male member itself. Some of the gore effects are grossly fun. The opening pre-snake 20-minutes of the film feels like a lame episode of Hawaii 5-O complete with lame villain. I don’t know how in the world the bad guys found this witness so quickly when they didn’t see his face, license plate, or any identifying characteristics. Every time the movie cuts away from the plane to a handful of subplots on the mainland it loses its flow, and it takes a long while to get things back.

The sheer nakedness of the film’s conception is amazing. We’re all aware that movie studios can create their product in the most artistically void way possible. Snakes on a Plane was cobbled together by an exec?s idea of combining aviophobia (fear of flying) with another common public fear, ophidiophobia (fear of snakes). The absurdity of the entire premise is on full display while watching the movie. If you allow the images to sink in, especially panicked passengers swatting at the reptiles, you will be seized by uncontrollable laughter. Who really would ever have thought of snakes being on a plane? I love that the evil gangster confesses that “he exhausted every other option.” I would have loved to be in that meeting room just to see all the plans that didn’t cut it compared to “poisonous snakes drop into cabin.” If this movie ever catches fire it could spawn a whole new wave of horror films that are mash-ups of common fears. So keep your eyes peeled next summer for Snakes on a Public Speaking Venture (“Oh no, there are snakes everywhere, and I have to speak in public about it!”).

Snakes on a Plane, unbelievably, tries to play it too straight and serious. There are so many improbabilities and inaccuracies in the film. It has snakes springing like rockets and moving as if they had 1,000 legs, and yet the film won’t fully commit to camp. After a year of hype and a lightning rod of a title, it’s hard not to be disappointed that Snakes on a Plane isn’t something more than… well, snakes on a plane. But then again maybe the simplicity is the whole genius. Maybe there’s still another layer of satire I have yet to penetrate, but I think I’m grasping out of hope for something more that just isn’t there. The movie is entertainingly bad but it doesn’t ever reach the stratosphere of bad, a world inhabited by the likes of Manos, The Land of Faraway, Showgirls, Glitter, and Bulletproof Monk, to name but a few.

There’s plenty of clichés and stereotypes galore. A stewardess, Claire (Julianna Margulies), is on her last flight before retirement. Flynn’s police partner bites it. A novice needs to be talked through landing the plane. The elitist blowhard gets his. There is a flaming gay male flight attendant that’s supposed to be funny. There’s even a laugh-out-loud moment where Flynn hugs Claire and says, “I need you to be strong for me.” Is the movie making fun of these clichés or just relying on them for a story? Does a difference even matter?

I will say that I was waiting in great anticipation for THE line of the summer: “I’m tired of these…” Once it came I couldn’t help but recite it along with Jackson.

Snakes on a Plane is a victim of a year’s worth of hype. It’s ridiculous, stupid, terrible, but then we all knew that when we bought a ticket. What we hoped for is that this blunt horror flick would be a campy send-up of B-movie silliness. Snakes on a Plane is less a canny parody of stupid thrillers than another example of them. The movie’s most ludicrous decision is trying to play this mess as serious material. If the flick had been a little more open to self-analysis then it could have been a real fun ride. Snakes on a Plane is bad, but after the absurdity of its premise dies down it’s never really that entertaining. It’s more mediocre. If you’re late to the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon then you’ve already missed its glory days.

Nate’s Grade: C

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at PictureShowPundits.com (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on August 16, 2006, in 2006 Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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