Brawny Action Throwback Plane Violently Takes to the Sky
Plane is exactly the movie a viewer likely expects it to be: a 1990s-style action throwback where the heroes are big and brawny, the villains inhumanely evil, and the situation five steps beyond impossible to overcome. This is the type of jingoistic (and moderately xenophobic) thriller Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, or Steven Seagal would have loved to have starred in during their respective heydays.
Star Gerard Butler has made a career out of violently pulpy material such as this. From Olympus Has Fallen to Law Abiding Citizen to Geostorm to Copshop to Den of Thieves, the actor seems to have found his B-movie niche and has embraced appearing in material like this body and soul. He never phones it in, and even if the movie itself does not work, no one can say Butler isn’t out there giving his all doing his darndest to keep the audience entertained.
The goofily sincere Plane is certainly no exception. In this purposefully violent riff on a tried-and-true scenario that goes all the way back to 1939’s Five Came Back, Butler stars as seasoned airline pilot Captain Brodie Torrance. He and his small crew are on a New Year’s Eve flight transporting 14 passengers to Tokyo. Joining them is accused murderer Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), who is being extradited to the United States. He’s been on the run for over a decade, even spending time in the French Foreign Legion, and isn’t exactly eager to be shipped back home.
After a freak lightning strike knocks out the plane’s electronic instruments, Torrance and his co-pilot, Samuel Dele (Yoson An), manage to land their aircraft on a dusty dirt road located in the heart of a secluded island somewhere near the Philippines. This island is ruled by cutthroat pirates, who see instant dollar signs when a passenger plane falls from the sky right into their laps. Torrance is forced to turn to Gaspare to save the passengers from these vicious killers and get the damaged craft back in the sky, where it belongs.
That’s it. There’s nothing more. Plane crashes. Bad guys take passengers and crew hostage. The captain teams up with the fugitive to save them. The original story, written by Charles Cumming, and the resulting screenplay, co-written with J.P. Davis (The Contractor), do not do a single unexpected thing. Even a subplot involving the airline’s behind-the-scenes disaster team, which includes a wisecracking corporate troubleshooter played to cocksure precision by veteran Tony Goldwyn, doesn’t go anywhere surprising.
This whole enterprise is as by-the-numbers as they come — and that’s just fine. Seasoned French director Jean-François Richet (Mesrine: Killer Instinct, Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1) could handle a film like this in his sleep, and his confidence orchestrating all the blood-soaked and bullet-riddled mayhem is never in doubt. This is a sleek, fast-paced live-action cartoon, and Richet has no problem highlighting acts of abhorrent violence or reveling in forcefully pugilistic bouts of heroic derring-do in as explicitly eye-popping a manner as an R rating allows.
Butler is also up to the challenge. So is Colter, whose quietly ferocious performance is much stronger than the material honestly warrants. They make a solid pair, and while there isn’t a ton of dialogue, it’s apparent that each actor has no qualms about letting the other shine when appropriate — and yet is equally ready to fill the spotlight with their larger-than-life presence when the moment calls for that.
The exploitation level is high, especially in the depiction of the bloodthirsty pirates. They’re all dirty scum ready to slice and dice their hostages at the drop of a hat, fitting the stereotype of South Asian villainy to such a degree that it borders on unforgivable. But the film is thankfully so cartoonishly absurd that it almost gets away with this, but as the year is 2023 and not 1983, it’s a given that not everyone is going to agree with me on this and some will likely walk out of the theater disgusted that anyone anywhere would find this entertaining.
Maybe I should be offended as well, but I think Richet and his team get away with it. They’re slumming, but doing so with energy, enthusiasm, style, and go-for-broke ferocity. Plane achieves liftoff, and for old-school action fanatics, even if it doesn’t stick the landing, watching it skid wildly off the runway into a ditch with such raucous aplomb is as ridiculous as it is wonderful.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)