It all began so innocently. Under the direction of Cellular and Final Destination 2 helmer David R. Ellis, none other than Samuel L. Jackson started work on a film that pitted him and a handful of frightened plane passengers against a slew of slimy snakes. But that goofy nugget of an idea, which would flirt with being titled Pacific Air 121 before settling on the much more cheese-tastic Snakes on a Plane, would bloom into a widespread word-of-mouth sensation, building up enough homegrown hype to measure up against summer offerings like The Da Vinci Code and X-Men 3. The downside is that so much anticipation could end up sinking a movie, but fear not, movie fans. Snakes on a Plane has your back, dishing out 105 minutes of gruesome gore and delicious tongue-in-cheek thrills.
After witnessing Hawaiian crime boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) murder a prosecutor in cold blood, average shlub Sean (Nathan Phillips) finds himself running for his life and being confronted with no other option but to report what he saw to the FBI. Of course, Eddie isn't about to let this witness get away that easily, and he's devised a particularly nasty way of taking Sean down. On a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles, dangerous and exotic snakes -- riled up by pheromones -- are let loose to wreak havoc while the plane is in midair.
Luckily, one man is prepared and determined to keep as many passengers alive as possible: Neville Flynn (Jackson), the agent charged with protecting Sean, who quickly gathers the remaining survivors, from a flight attendant on her last assignment (Julianna Margulies) to a rap star (Flex Alexander), and goes to any lengths possible to fend off the rest of the encroaching reptilian threat.
I'll tell you right now, if you look at the idea of Sam Jackson fighting off rattlers, cobras, and pythons (oh, my!) on an airplane and don't giggle like a schoolgirl, then Snakes on a Plane is not for you. This is a film that wears its B-movie status on its sleeve, so if you go in expecting an emotionally-complex, Hitchcockian thriller, you may be let down. Snakes on a Plane is nowhere close to being a perfect movie, but it's two tons of goofy fun, and that's all Ellis and crew want it to be. You'd be surprised with how well and how often Snakes on a Plane generates a creepy and intense atmosphere with the title creatures, turning the plane into a demented funhouse where snakes are likely to pop out of any corner or cabinet, leading to a number of jump scares that actually are scary.
Ellis isn't afraid to ratchet up the violence along with the suspense, either, featuring some icky snake attacks upon parts of the human body where one would especially like to avoid being bitten (this applies to the guys and the gals). And the threats don't lie with the snakes alone, as other incidents (including the hefty damage the plane itself ends up taking) add to the tension as Flynn tries to get as many people on the ground alive as possible. All of this, combined with a story that doesn't take itself too seriously and another badass performance from Jackson (one that culminates in one of the year's most memorable lines of dialogue) results in one entertaining creature feature.
What complaints I have about Snakes on a Plane are standard-issue with B-movies of all varieties. The writing isn't that sharp (aside from the line, of course), the supporting characters and their stories are dull and predictable for the most part, and the running time does tend to stretch the already thin premise from time to time. But when all's said and done, after sitting through a summer of epic pirate battles and superhero brawls, it's nice to see a movie like Snakes on a Plane taking a more simple approach to entertaining moviegoers: freaking the heck out of them and throwing in a few laughs in the process.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated "R" for language, a scene of sexuality and drug use, and intense sequences of terror and violence.)