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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Snakes On A Plane

Friday there were at least four Samuel L. Jacksons at the Essex Cinemas. One was on the screen and there were three I spotted in the audience at what is sure to become The Rocky Horror Picture Show of the 21st Century sans the garter belts and feather boas, of course. Well, sans the feathers anyway. There were plenty of boas since the movie was, of course, Snakes on a Plane.

This movie has had a life of it’ own for months on the Internet, where those mysterious geeks and nerds that live in their mother’s basements have breathed for the moment this would hit theaters. Those who in years past waited in lines for Star Wars for months on end have had nothing to do but admire the webs between their toes now that that the Skywalker saga has mercifully come to an end, so they have been waiting patiently for some other touchstone that would feed the fires in their souls. And what better kindling could there be than these four words strung together: Snakes. On. A. Plane. It says it all. There’s only one thing that could make that combination more delicious, and that is the addition of Samuel L. Jackson (Freedomland) himself.

Nobody could mix it up with crate of king snakes better than the King of the Bs (movies that is) than Sam. This would be a movie destined for tv’s Sci Fi channel if not for his presence and his foul mouth. Yes, let’s face it. Jackson’s trademark is his dazzling display of gutter language, and his catch phrase for this movie has circulated online since April. Unfortunately, it can’t be repeated in polite company or reported here, but let’s just say he wants desperately to get those mother-lovin’ snakes off of that mother-lovin’ plane.

So you are asking yourself what is all this snakes and plane business anyway? Is there a plot to this movie? The answer is basically just barely, but that’s okay,
because this is less like a traditional movie and more like an amusement park ride. You go in, sit down, and hold on until it’s over. Screaming and jumping are optional but encouraged. Just keep your hands and feet inside your seating area.

The film sets itself in action quickly as Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips; Wolf Creek) is taken into protective custody by the FBI after witnessing the murder of one of their agents, and Jackson's Neville Flynn is assigned to take the young man to Los Angeles from Hawaii to testify against the mob boss behind the execution slaying. Like it matters. This set-up is really not important other than to let the viewers know that the villain responsible for getting the snakes on the plane is so powerful he can and will do just about anything to get rid of a potential witness. This includes the ingenious plan to saturate the traditional flower leis given to all of the passengers upon boarding this flight with snake pheromones in order to make the snakes stashed on board in floral containers go mad with desire. As Sam says when he finds out what’s going on “It’s like snakes on crack.”

It only takes a couple of minutes before the characters move onto the plane and then we have what can only be described as 90 minutes of the most colorful, gory, hysterical, laughable, and energetic frenzy of special effects, riotous story-telling, and over-the-top acting you’ll ever see in a mainstream studio movie. It’s almost as if Disney was doing R-rated horror starring Roger Rabbit.

Writers John Heffernen and Sebastian Gutierrez must be a couple of twisted puppies because they definitely revel in bringing to life the most obvious yet unnerving fantasies of death one might have when it comes to being bitten by a deadly snake, and they definitely have a “thing” about bathrooms. The first to go are a typical newlywed couple who sneak into a cramped restroom and disable the smoke detector to light up a joint before peeling off their clothes and going for membership in The Mile High Club. Fortunately for them, before they can develop cotton mouth from smoking the pot, a live cottonmouth finds its way down through the hole in the roof where the detector was and makes their tryst a threesome to die for.

No sooner has this happened than another passenger visits another men’s room and his trouser snake meets with the kiss of a King Cobra who’s found his way up through the toilet pipe. So begins the surprises that dispatch literally dozens of passengers and crew.

The characters aboard are as clichéd and as broadly written as those found on an old episode of "The Love Boat", but that makes their deaths all the more glorious and welcome. There’s the ridiculously snotty and arrogant prig Paul (Gerard Plunkett; Eight Below), who receives the most welcome and dramatic dispatch (it elicited cheers from the audience with which I saw it), as well as the noble heroes, like Grace (Lin Shaye; There's Something About Mary), the elder flight attendant on her last day of work yet willing to sacrifice herself for the life of a child. There’s also comic relief in characters such as germaphobe rapper 3 G’s (Flex Alexander; Her Minor Thing), and his bodyguards, massive Big Leroy (Keith Dallas; Final Destination 3) and dimbulb homeboy Troy (Kenan Thompson; tv’s "Saturday Night Live"). There’s even a Paris Hilton wannabe, Mercedes (Rachel Blanchard; Where the Truth Lies) who I wanted to feed to the bigger snakes along with her yippy little dog just for the sheer satisfaction of doing it.

The thing to remember is that Snakes On A Plane is a joke, a tongue-in-cheek version of the kind of crapola churned out shamelessly by Hollywood cynics for the tv networks or the straight-to-video markets that fill the shelves of DVD stores everywhere. If this was a “real” B movie it would star Casper Van Dien (Skeleton Man) or Lorenzo Lamas (18 Fingers of Death!). The difference here is that Snakes On A Plane knows that what it is giving you is eye-rolling silly, which is where the gag lies. If you watch it seriously believing a hundred different species of poisonous snakes from around the world are all going to be free to roam an airliner and take over a plane as easily as these do then… well, maybe you need to stay down in the basement and hope for a Star Wars revival while you keep on watching the Sci Fi channel. If you get that this has the markings of a landmark parody, then you’re going to want to slither on down to the Esssssssex Cinemasssssss and rock with the rest of us.

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