Snakes on a Plane

by F.

I’m not sure what lessons to draw from S.o.a.P.

Yeah, there was all that talk about how the movie was hyped in the blogosphere; how it was changed late in production to accommodate the wishes of fans, requiring five days of re-shooting after principal photography wrapped; how it became an internet phenomenon. I’m not sure how much of all that is true—I mean, it sure didn’t translate into a solid opening: S.o.a.P. only took in $15.2 million its opening weekend.

So, there doesn’t seem to be much of a lesson about using the blogosphere to hype a movie, other than, “It didn’t work.” But maybe the lesson is that even bad movies are pretty good these days. And I don’t mean “so bad it’s good.” I’ve never really enjoyed archness like that.

As my wife and I left the theater—we saw it at the Cinerama in Seattle—we concluded that it almost doesn’t matter what the story is as long as the star is appealing, the editing is good, and the story has a solid three-act structure. That can be enough, as it was with S.o.a.P. Throw in a little comedy and some nudity and you got yourself an afternoon’s entertainment.

I mean, our expectations were low. Iguana-belly low. Like many viewers, we just wanted to hear Samuel L. Jackson say, “I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” Fortunately, this unofficial tag-line came toward the end of what I figure was the second act. And it was funny. And the crowd did erupt into laughter and cheering.

But the movie was good. Enough.

Act I begins in Hawaii, where surfer Sean Jones witnesses a murder, carried out by L.A. mobster. The mobster knows Sean saw the killing and goes after him, but Sean gets away. Later, the mobster’s goons break into Sean’s apartment and try to kill him. Luckily, FBI agent Nelville Flynn (played by Jackson) is there to save his bacon. Back at the federal building, Nelville convinces Sean to testify in L.A. against the mobster. Sean’ll be flown to L.A. for the trial. But once the plane is in the air, and we’ve met all the victims-to-come, a time-release box opens up, letting out the snakes.

Act II begins, more or less, with a gruesome but funny snake attack in the bathroom. The main tension is set up: Will Sean and the rest of the passengers get killed by the snakes? The remainder of Act II comprises a series of attacks by the snakes and counterattacks by Nelville and others, culminating in Nelville blowing out a window through which the snakes get sucked. Ahhh, we can relax. But then the pilot either dies or is incapacitated (I don’t remember which). Who will fly the plane? And will they make it to L.A., or will they crash into the Pacific?

Act III begins when a passenger lies about his flight experience and takes the controls. Sure, he’s flown—Flight Simulator. Anyway, after a few ups and downs, they land in L.A. and all seems to be well. Then the Twist: Sean is attacked by a snake. It bites him in the chest! OH MY GOD! Nelville fires a couple of rounds at the snake. He kills the snake—but Sean got two rounds in the chest. OH NO! Is he dead? The EMTs go to work on him and it doesn’t look good. But then Nelville rips off Sean’s shirt. Underneath it was a Kevlar vest, so neither the fangs nor the 9mm rounds penetrated. WHEW! After that, we don’t even see Sean testify, just he and Nelville surfing in Hawaii. We know that he did and the mobster got the chair or lethal injection or whatever.

There’s a subplot about a deranged herpatologist who supplied the snakes, but it’s pretty thin and not worth describing.

So that’s that.

Could it have been better? Maybe. Could it have been worse? Oh yeah. As I mentioned, I thought the editing was good. The gore wasn’t too bad—about 1/10 of a Cronenberg, which is the universal gore measurement unit, as I recall. It could have been funnier. The movie was right on the line between comedy and horror. Personally, I love comedy-horror—Dawn of the Dead, American Werewolf in London, and so on. And this wasn’t quite up to those. But it was good enough.