The clever soundbyte doing the rounds in the months leading up to the release of Snakes On A Plane was that iconic actor Samuel L Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Changing Lanes, the Star Wars prequels) signed on for the project the moment he heard the name of the movie. Snakes On A Plane. There it was, the title was the story; everything else would be gravy.
The movie begins promisingly enough with aerial shots of beautiful and oh-so-inviting Hawaii. Life is a beach and no one's complaining. Except for LA mob lord Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson), who takes a baseball bat to the body of an LA prosecutor. A young man named Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips, Wolf Creek) witnesses the brutal killing and, even though he escapes, the crime lord and his henchmen are on to him.
Enter Neville Flynn (Jackson), an FBI agent who takes on the responsibility of bringing the boy back to LA so he can testify.
They board Pacific Air Flight 121 and block off the entire First Class section so Sean can travel undisturbed with his minders in tow. Along the way, we meet the rest of the cast - usual genre movie suspects like Claire (Julianna Margulies, ER), the mature flight attendant on her final flight, Tiffany (Sunny Mabrey, xXx: State of the Union), the sexy blonde flight attendant with a taste for danger, Three G's (hip-hop star who doesn't like being touched by his fans), his two bodyguards Troy (Kenan Thompson) and Big Leroy (Keith Dallas), a honeymooning couple (the husband is scared of flying), an obnoxious foreigner, a blonde airhead (Rachel Blanchard, Sugar & Spice) who cares more about her dog than the people on the plane, a young Latina mother with a child, a sexist co-pilot and two unaccompanied minors whom Claire promises to take care of.
Also on the plane is a rogue's gallery of poisonous snakes locked up in a time release chamber set to open when the plane is halfway between Honolulu and LA. So far, so good.
At the point where the raunchy couple goes into one of the toilets to earn their membership into the Mile High Club, the recently released snakes attack and all hell breaks loose. Various inconsequential characters whose sole purpose is to die dramatically go through the motions and it becomes clear very quickly that this is all there is to it.
It is possible that the filmmakers thought they had all they needed with the title and an actor of Sam Jackson's calibre on board. Quite like our Nana Patekar, once you have Jackson, you have to give him impressive dialogues to spout. For the better part of the film though (not sure how much was edited upon censor request) Jackson is silent or monosyllabic. He doesn't deliver lines anywhere close to the memorable fare that lives with us over a decade after the release of Pulp Fiction.
Also, the cramped confines of the plane make it difficult for us to truly grasp the terror of finding violently snapping snakes dropping along with oxygen masks or slithering out of toilets, overhead compartments and other nooks. The snake attacks quickly fall into a pattern.
It is possible the producers and stars were hoping the concept would bring audiences to theatres on opening weekend. Especially with the groundswell of support from the Internet in the form of blog posts, message board discussions and all sorts of plays on the phrase 'snakes on a plane', it must have seemed like a foregone conclusion to all involved that the film would be a hit. Release weekend came and went though, and when the dust settled, the point that became clear was that Snakes On A Plane lacked a key ingredient in the stew that is genre cinema excitement.
With a stronger shot of adrenaline and a greater sense of fun, this might have been an enjoyable ride. Alas, all it really ends up being is just snakes on a plane.