August 24, 2006

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Snakes on a Plane (R)
Various reptiles of the order Squamata invade an air-based means of transport in Snakes on a Plane, a film that has revolutionized modern cinema.

Or, at least, it has revolutionized the way that studios can market cheesy modern cinema.

This movie gained its fame — gained its fame a good nine months to a year before it ever saw the inside of a theater — entirely because of its title and the fact that Samuel L. Jackson was starring in it. So, immediately, screenwriter Josh Friedman (his blog "I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing" is sort of a patient zero of this viral marketing) and others dreamed up the quintessential Jackson line of dialogue, which, through the meta-movie-making that has turned this film into some kind of crazy ironic epic, eventually weaseled its way into the actual script. That's right: "I've had it with these mother-bleeping snakes on my mother-bleeping plane" is right there, in all its winking-at-you-winking-at-it glory.

And, thanks to a studio realization that if you have Samuel L. Jackson in a movie where snakes continuously pop out at people, biting various parts of their anatomy you'll want to go heavy on the swearing, that isn't the film's only bleep. It's bleeping raining bleeps. It's also raining snakes, which fall from the overhead compartments and spring from behind doors and panels. Enough to make you say bleep at every turn.

Oh, plot description? Well, as a friend recently pointed out, Snakes on a Plane is a bit like porn — if you're looking for character arcs and story development, you're really looking in the wrong place. As Friedman pointed out in his blog, dated about a year ago, "snakes on a plane" is a statement so stripped down and obvious it has a sort of one-hand-clapping zen-ness to it. Snakes on a plane, Friedman says, is what it is. "Snakes on a plane, man," Friedman muses, is the modern "c'est la vie" or "whaddaya gonna do."

It is not surprising, therefore, that for the bulk of the movie FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) and surfer boy Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips), the witness to a mob crime who Flynn is protecting on the flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles, are on a plane which is also packed full of deadly snakes. There are other people on the plane too — Janeane Garofalo used to do a stand-up bit about the various character types represented within their stereotypical extreme on the bus in the movie Speed and how she expected to see an Eskimo with spear or maybe an Indian with full feathered headdress. The other unlucky passengers in this flight are drawn with the same subtle touches. You've got the veteran flight attendant (Lyn Shaye), you've got the flight attendant on her last trip before a new career (Julianna Margulies, having a grand time), you've got the male flight attendant who everyone assumes is gay (Bruce James). There are the sexist pilot (David Koechner), the slutty Paris Hilton-like passenger (Rachel Blanchard), the rapper who is secretly a germphobe (Flex Alexander) and the rapper's assistant who secretly hates the rapper (Kenan Thompson). The collection of potential heroes, victims and poor slobs also includes a pissy Brit, a mom with a baby, two little boys flying alone, a martial arts expert, a honeymooning couple and a much trashier couple attempting to join the mile high club.

Yes, all God's children convene on the plane and, because the FBI takes over first class, all convene in coach. There are a few clever flight-attendants-hate-passengers lines, a few funny passengers-hate-other-passengers lines and a few lines that are funny because they involve Jackson, Margulies or one of the other more endearing characters laying a well-deserved smackdown on some uppity loser.

Snakes on a Plane became such a blockbuster of sarcastitainment that there is almost no way that the actual movie could ever outshine the snarky brilliance it gained as a mere idea riffed-on and wiki-fied by the Internet. And like any good B- movie, Snakes on a Plane is a film best viewed in the company of others in on the joke. Find that crowd of fellow hipster travelers, loosen up with a couple old episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Snakes on a Plane will be a bleeping good time. B+

— Amy Diaz


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