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Jackson’s shtick saves ‘Snakes’

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The only way to really see “Snakes on a Plane” is with a lively audience. Without that experience, there is not much to redeem this highly predictable and low-caliber flick.

On its own, this Samuel L. Jackson horror-thriller is fairly uninspired, with some of the best parts of the film added in post-production after Internet fans clamored for the movie to be transformed from a PG-13 romp to an R-rated scare-fest. All of the hype surrounding this film seemed to suggest that maybe “Snakes” wouldn’t just be a bad film, but one of those truly treasured, enjoyably bad films that live on as campy classics.

The opening 20 minutes of the movie focus on the lame set-up leading to the anticipated excitement of snakes and planes. There are a lot of fairly pointless – but gorgeous – shots of Hawaii, surfing and motocross. Goofy motocross rider Sean (Nathan Phillips, “Wolf Creek”) mistakenly witnesses a hit by crime lord Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). To protect Sean from Kim’s minions is FBI agent Neville Flynn, played perfectly by Jackson. Kim’s ingenious plan (instead of possibly sniping poor Sean) is to have hundreds of deadly snakes smuggled onto a plane at a moment’s notice in order to prevent Sean from testifying in Los Angeles. While not the most practical or logical set-up, it does lead to the desired snakes on a plane combination.

Once the snakes are released (after the plane is well over the Pacific Ocean, of course) the predicted mayhem ensues as the snakes find themselves in every possible place on the plane. One of the most clever – or annoying – aspects of the film is the “snake vision,” giving the audience the snakes’ perspective on the action. More than 450 real snakes, as well as their computer-generated counterparts, come flying out of overhead compartments, toilets and bags to attack the terrified passengers.

The passengers themselves are as stereotypical as they come (a strategy that relieves the need to develop real characters), with everyone from the unattended minors to the guy who is afraid to fly, to the rude British guy and hot rap artist. The flight attendants follow this same pattern and include one on the verge of retirement, the young hot one and the smart (also hot) one.

The movie does have many genuinely frightening moments balanced out by excellent support work from the cast, which includes former SNL cast member David Koechner and current member Kenan Thompson.

Samuel L. Jackson does a great job playing an FBI agent playing Samuel L. Jackson. He gives quotable anti-snake speeches and drops swearwords like candy to children. Although he has seen better roles, no one else besides Jackson would be taken remotely seriously attacking snakes with his bare hands.

Director David R. Ellis does what he can with the material and, in the end, the movie is about what can be expected from a bunch of snakes on a plane. The joy of the movie, however, doesn’t come from the film itself – it comes from experiencing the “Snakes on a Plane” phenomenon.