MOVIE REVIEW – Remember when Liam Neeson used to make it a tradition every January or February to release a heavily B-rated (and increasingly weak) action/thriller in theaters? Well, it seems Neeson has retired from that business, opening the door wide for Gerard Butler. Butler has just as much screen presence as Neeson (minus the Oscar nomination), and is proving just as capable of playing the role of the heroic everyman.
With a silly title (no one could come up with something more original than Plane?) and an even sillier script, but that’s par for the course for action films from the 1980s. The biggest mistake of the film’s foreign distributor, Lionsgate, was to send this film to theatres instead of making a deal with a major streaming company. With its shoddy look, poorly lit interior shots, and general B-movie aesthetic, Plane would have been a fitting way to waste a few hours lounging on the couch munching on salty snacks. But as a multiplex film? Not really, even if you take salty snacks with you.
Airport meets Rambo
The Plane is like a fusion of Airport (a popular 1970s aviation disaster movie franchise mocked by Airplane in 1980) and Rambo (in so far as it was about a bloody jungle rescue). But since the film is about 100 minutes long, it has no time to offer more than a few stylistic homages to its inspirations. A number of subplots are introduced before they are unceremoniously discarded and rushed to a good conclusion. Most of the supporting characters are completely undeveloped, and the main villain is much more one-dimensional than is usual in films of this kind.
After Brodie Torrance (Butler) loses his prestigious cabin crew job for assaulting a disobedient passenger (airline pilot fantasy number 3), he is forced to fly three-quarters empty planes for a low-cost airline called Trailblazer Air in East Asia. If all goes well, this particular trip will allow him to spend the New Year with his adult daughter. Needless to say, things are not going well. In the first few scenes of the film, there is a cursory introduction to the only three people on the plane (apart from Brodie) that anyone remembers (there are 14 passengers and five crew members in total): co-pilot Samuel (Yoson An), flight attendant Bonnie (Daniella Pineda) and convict Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), who is being transferred under the supervision of an armed marshal. High above the Philippines, the plane is struck by lightning, loses power and Brodie is forced to make an emergency landing. In the process, two people – a flight attendant (not Bonnie) and the officer in charge of Louis – die, a reminder to always fasten your seat belt when a plane crashes to the ground.
From bad to worse
The ‘Ffrom bad to worse’ scenario means that the survivors on the ground face more than the brutal heat, starvation and dehydration of the Philippine jungle. The island on which they land is controlled by militant separatists, who regard visitors such as missionaries and passengers trapped on planes as convenient hostages.
When Brodie and Louis, who has since escaped, go in search of help (or at least a working radio or phone), the bad guys attack the mostly intact plane. Meanwhile, back at corporate headquarters, Trailblazer boss Hampton (Paul Ben-Victor) and his troubleshooter Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn, playing a more stern role than usual) are already on the job.
With the Philippine government refusing to provide assistance, they are forced to rely on a team of heavily armed, well-paid mercenaries to rescue them.
“This is… PLANE!!!”
The real complaint that Butler fans may have about The Aviator is that at no point does the script give the actor the opportunity to exclaim, “This is… PLANE!!!” From the script you get a little fighting, a little killing, and some non-violent, familiar heroics.
When it comes to piling up the body count, Mike Colter frustratingly undercuts Louis. The buddy movie aspect between Brodie and Louis is also quickly lost, because the screenwriters don’t care enough to unfold it. And Evan Dane Taylor’s single stern-faced bad guy stands out from the rest of the cast mostly because of his impressive mane of hair.
Visuals are simple
Perhaps my biggest complaint about Plane is that its visuals are rather… „unpretentious”. (Or crap.) Director Jean-Francois Richet knows how to direct action scenes. His previous works include the Assault on Precinct 13 remake and the 2016 Mel Gibson vehicle Blood Father. The handling of the crash landing takes about ten minutes of suspense, and the climactic firefight is presented in a satisfying B-movie fashion. But the dim lighting, clunky sets and shoddy special effects take a lot away from the overall experience and at times come perilously close to self-parody.
Watching Plane in the cinema makes the events look “bigger”, but that doesn’t mean they look better on widescreen. The film offers limited entertainment for those who like this kind of film, the problem is that we are already overflowing with them on streaming channels, while there are plenty of better ones here, The Machine is mostly in the strong mid-range.