There’s no denying that Snakes on a Plane is probably the most hyped movie of the summer. That’s really saying something considering this has been a year that featured the return of Superman, more X-Mutants, and the latest from Captain Jack Sparrow. However there are few movies out there that can claim to have their signature line spouted from fandom not days, not weeks, but months before the movie even hits theaters. For that matter, there are even fewer that can claim it wasn’t the movie’s writers, but a fan who came up with the line in the first place. Who can claim that? Snakes on a Plane.
In case the title doesn’t give it away, Snakes on a Plane features a storyline of killer snakes attacking an FBI agent and a witness in his protection on a plane. The snakes are so riled up that nobody is going to stop them from attacking; not the plane’s captain, not the uppity British snob character, or the protective mother with her newborn children, or the two young kids traveling alone, or even the parodies of Kanye West and Paris Hilton type characters. These snakes are deadly, and if killing the humans through a variety of nasty ways isn’t enough, just aggressively slithering around in the walls of the plane, randomly attacking things, can do enough damage to bring the plane down. Armed with a variety of weapons from tasers to broken beer bottles, the passengers must do their best to survive until the plane can land safely on its voyage from Hawaii to Los Angeles.
There is only one man who could possibly confront such an odd disaster as Snakes on a Plane: Samuel L. Jackson. Somehow, Jackson’s presence removes the ridiculousness of the situation. Maybe it’s because he delivers his lines with such serious devotion to making this situation real. Maybe it’s because Jackson is the everyman, an actor who brings something to the table that everyone can relate to. Probably, however, it’s because we want to watch Jackson trash some snake ass, which he does, from the moment he first encounters the slithery reptiles until the very end. You can’t help but hoot and cheer as Jackson dispatches the snakes with various weapons, leading up to his signature line which has a good chance of having the audience yell out with him. After all, they’re the ones who inspired it.
What makes the movie work is that Snakes on a Plane is fully aware of how silly its situation is, but it doesn’t try to take a tongue-in-cheek approach. It makes no apologies, but doesn’t make fun of itself either. The movie is played straight, completely formulaic as an action flick without actually making fun of the action genre. It’s simple. Here’s the problem: There are snakes on the plane. Now how do we deal with that? In fact, the few times the movie seems absurd is when it tries to over-explain itself, such as suggesting the snakes being cold-blooded is why the FBI missed them being on the plane during its scans or explaining off the aggressive behavior of the animals due to pheromones. As an audience, we don’t care about how this happened. The fact that anyone thought of this, let alone filmed it, is absurd enough. Let us enjoy that absurdity as we watch Jackson face off with the snakes.
It’s unfair to give Jackson sole credit for the trashing of the snakes however. Everyone in the movie gets a part in either destroying snakes or being destroyed by them, whether it’s witness Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips), flight attendant Claire Miller (Julianna Marguiles), or bodyguard/entourage member Troy (Kenan Thompson). Let’s give some credit to the snakes as well. After all, after Samuel L. Jackson they have the most important role in the movie (possibly even more important, after all, it is called Snakes on a Plane, not Jackson on a Plane). For those who have seen the cheesy appearance of the snakes in the trailers and written the movie off, fear not. The snakes are presented in such a way that allowed this ophidiophobe to make it through the movie thoroughly entertained, although I have to admit I was quite uncomfortable a lot of the time. Sometimes they are a little too real, and sometimes they look quite fake, but once you’re caught up in the movie, laughing and cheering, you no longer care.
When reviewing movies it’s often important to take into account just what the artists who made the film were trying to do. In the case of Snakes on a Plane the desired attempt is right there in the title: they were trying to tell a story about Snakes on a Plane, and in the style of a straightforward, yet clichéd action flick that’s exactly what has been done. Does this movie make you think? Not really. Does it make you strive to be a better person? Nope. Does it have plenty of snakes on a plane? Absolutely. And for summer popcorn fare that’s more than enough for a thrilling good time.