What the hell, I said. Now or never, I said. If I'm going to see those motherfucking snakes on that motherfucking plane, it's going to be at the very first motherfucking showing, I said. So I drove to the local five-plex, plunked down my $9.25 and stayed up past my bedtime for a raucous screening of "Snakes on a Plane."
Short version: I had feared that, after all the hype, the movie itself would be underwhelming, neither good nor bad enough to merit all the attention. But it delivered exactly what the greatest title of all time promised: lots of snakes, lots of screaming, lots of silliness, and Sam Jackson again demonstrating that he can take anything seriously, so long as there's a paycheck involved. Not a great movie -- not even really a good one -- but no worse than, say, "Tremors," and with a more elegant concept. I definitely got my $9.25 worth. Of course, it helped that the small theater was packed with kids from the local high school who went nuts for everything, up to and including some of the trailers (whoever got Jackson's "Black Snake Moan" trailer attached to this movie deserves several raises).
Significant spoilers (of the kind you shouldn't read until after the movie -- though, in this case, does it matter?) after the jump. (And if you would rather read a less spoiler-y review that pretty much echoes everything I've said, go read Fienberg, who's certainly not doing his part to prove we're not the same person.)
First, the downside. As the witness who inspires the evil mobster to put those snakes on that plane, Nathan Phillips is laughable. (It doesn't help that it's never clear whether the murder he witnesses is of his dad, in which case he's even worse.) Ordinarily, I wouldn't care, but the movie takes so damn long (at least a half-hour) to actually release the snakes, and most of that throat-clearing time hangs on Phillips. The low point is his whine about how this is all interfering with his plan to go surfing in Bali, a weird, probably unintentional homage to Luke Skywalker's rant about going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters. Also, the scenes on the ground with Bobby Canavale advance the plot (barely) and nothing more; when you've got weird character guys like Bobby Cannavale and Todd Louiso working together, how do you not find a way to make any of that funny? And the ending, again heavy on Nathan Phillips, is seventeen times cheesier than anything to come before.
But up in the air, once those snakes get loose, whoa Nelly. This is a gore-y, gore-y movie, more graphic than you'd expect even with the title. I think they picked every part of the human anatomy (male and female) that I would be most afraid to have attacked by a snake: eyes, mouths, genitals (the urination scene almost drove me from the theater), etc. The CGI was usually unconvincing, but it didn't really matter, especially in over-the-top moments like the boa constrictor crushing, then devouring the Evil Businessman.
And while I could see EB's demise coming from the second he walked on the plane and started bitching about having to fly coach, I like that the movie wasn't 100% predictable about who would live and who would die. You know the horny young couple trying to join the mile-high club are toast (has there ever been a horror movie where sex didn't equal death?) and that the two kids and the mom and baby will survive, but I never would have expected the sweet honeymoon couple would get it the way they did, and I had the germaphobe rapper marked for death from the jump, and he made it.
I was also glad to see Dave Koechner (who had the audience laughing and yelling "Whammy!" as soon as he walked on screen) die and come back to life a couple of times before they had to kill him for good so an amateur had to land the plane. (Though I had Julianna Margulies pegged for that job; maybe I've seen "Executive Decision" too many times on cable.)
But really, the entire damn movie hangs on Sam Jackson, who has long since established that he will star in any script you put in front of him while bringing more authority than most of them deserve. Doesn't matter whether he's striding along the armrests, tasering snakes without any of them attacking from above (you have to refuse to even think about the logic of when and where the snakes would and wouldn't attack or else you might as well not go at all) or pulling the plane out of a steep dive simply by gritting his teeth a little more: I believed every single ridiculous thing he did and said. And his delivery of The Line is a thing of beauty. You know it's coming, you're expecting it to come, you've said it to all your friends several dozen times in the last six months, and still he kills with it. (Though part of the genius of it is how blatantly it was inserted later, sort of like the high production values in the "Gotcha, suckers!" shot from the end of "Chubby Rain" in "Bowfinger.") And, of course, the theater went berserk as soon as he said it. I'm not sure I was able to hear another line of dialogue for at least three minutes.
On my way out of the theater, I got into lockstep with a middle-aged guy (I think we were the only non-teenagers in the crowd) and we were both just laughing our asses off. "I got up to walk out three or four times," he said, "and just as I was about to, there'd be something on the screen that made me sit back down again."
That about says it. Like "Rocky Horror Picture Show," it's not a movie to see in a quiet matinee, or on DVD. See it in a crowded theater, or don't bother.