August 16-22, 2006

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'Snakes on a Plane'

Photograph by James Dittiger
Rear Windu: Samuel L. Jackson tries to get a better view of the nude scene during 'Snakes on a Plane.'


'Snakes on a Plane': Homo sapiens has now achieved its purpose. And now, human history can come to a close.

By Richard von Busack

EVERYONE WILL have their own stories of the summer of '06, but for me the funniest part of the media circus—and I have no regrets about being one of the many clowns in the Volkswagen—came when I was talking to a Raley's cashier about SoaP. She said, "Snakes on a Plane? What's it about?" A moment of silence for our hardworking movie marketeers.

"They say, 'The higher you aim, the harder you fall.'" That's Byron Lawson as Eddie Kim, an evil Hawaiian drug lord, about to take a baseball-bat to a U.S. agent's head. Not listening to his own advice, Kim sets up a most baroque assassination scheme ever. Seems like a lot of work to take out a vacationing surfer named Sean (Nathan Phillips, oh, God, such unbelievable callowness, not since Burt Ward), who witnessed the murder.

Fortunately, Samuel L. Jackson's FBI agent, Flynn, swoops Sean away, taking over the first-class section of an L.A.-bound 747 for the two of them. "Believe me, I exhausted all other options," says Kim, before deciding on stuffing the cargo hold with snakes, hopped up on pheromone-soaked orchids. "Snakes on crack!," Jackson comments. With broken champagne bottle, with stun-gun and almost with a plastic spork, Jackson fights an army of slitherers.

Snakes on a Plane doesn't fall hard, but who could accuse it of aiming high? Writing about it, you risk giving the impression that it's worth more than 99 cents a ticket, that it is scary in any way or form or that it's more fun than it is. On the bright side, the animators have given their creatures a bit of facial expression. Sneaking up on a pretty foot, one viper drops his jaw and leers as if to say "Sssmokin'!" And there was something like a serpent double-take when the inevitable toilet snake gets hosed in a golden shower.

If the film functions as anything, it's as a revenge fantasy for the frequent flyer. The stuck-up Englishman, the annoying baby, the lapdog, the rude urbanite (as "Three Gs," author of the hit "My Booty Went Thump!" Flex Alexander is about as authentic as gum-machine bling-bling)—all of them get a lesson in courtesy, thanks to angry snakes.

Some will be happy to tease out the gay subtext in the film. I'll wager it's there, despite the clumsy homo-proofing joke about an effeminate male stewardess. Jackson and Phillips have rather a beautiful friendship, while Julianna Margulies—not exactly a man's lady, here—gets held in one fatherly clinch, before diving into her car to get away, like someone fleeing a bad date.

The point of this movie should be that life is precious and that at any moment we could be bitten by a snake hiding in the luggage rack. Unfortunately, that's bypassed a little by an incredibly inept first five minutes (it's like a video advertising a time-share), flight-simulator-level graphics and wonky hardboiled dialogue: "This bird's gonna go down like a Thai hooker!" Like so much else in the 2006 film season, it's a million-dollar idea that seems to have been built upon by the first guy to walk through the door.

Snakes on a Plane (R; 105 min.), directed by David R. Ellis, John Heffernan, and Sebastian Gutierrez, photographed by Adam Greenberg and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianna Margulies, plays valleywide.

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