Review: ‘Plane’ (short and schweet)

Leonidas and Luke Cage… on a plane.

The only pilot permitted to sport a rugged five o’clock shadow, Captain Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) is piloting a minimal New Year’s Eve flight out of Singapore to Tokyo. Directed to fly into the path of a severe thunderstorm to save fuel, the assumption is the worst weather probably won’t be there by the time they reach it. Not only is the storm still present upon arrival, happenstance meets turbulence to force the plane down… onto a unknown island that happens to be under the control of a ruthless warlord (Evan Dane Taylor). The crew and passengers of Trailblazer Flight 119 find themselves out of communication, low on supplies, and running out of time. The only wildcard is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a fugitive being extradited back to the States with some experience in evading capture.

Plane feels like the kind of movie that shows up on cable pay-per-view and on-demand the same day that bigger films hit the theater — movies that sound almost as good to folks who never see trailers or go to the cinema. The premise is generic, the twists are predictable, and the title never grew beyond the working description. In spite of everything, the cast seems decent enough, the trailers look okay, and everything else in the theaters are either blockbuster hold-overs from last year or awards-contenders looking to find an audience. How bad could it be, right?

Surprisingly, it’s not bad at all, in spite of being completely forgettable. Butler in his early fifties still looks physically capable even if he’s no longer up to his 300 standards; better yet, his fight scenes look like a man his age just trying to do the best he can against bad guys half his age. While Butler is the draw, the action sequences belong to Colter, shown being heroic and a man of few words (according to the script); “generic action antihero” seems a bit odd after starring roles in Marvel’s “Luke Cage”and as an “X-Flies” meets “The Exorcist” Catholic investigator in Paramount’s “Evil.” Wait: is that Daniella “Faye Valentine” Pineda from Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop” as “frightened pretty stewardess?” If any of the actors involved could play some of the roles they’re known for in this, it would have been a completely different movie by the time the plane touched down.

Fortunately, the filmmakers know what they have: a little money and a decent cast to make the best thriller they can get away with. Director Jean-François Richet does what he can while the rest happened in the editing room. Medium-budget films can afford money-shot lightning bolts frying electrical systems and supplies being dropped by parachute, but if you hurry past those moments, will anyone but cinephiles notice they weren’t there at all? Establishing shots of the plane moving through the storm in the first thirty minutes look like outtakes from Airplane circa 1980, outsourced to save cash for the end and the live sequences. With a better soundtrack, a little more money, and a better title, this could have been a franchise starter back in the eighties.

It feels shorter than it is, suggests more than it shows, and gets away with more than it should. Plane is oddly satisfying, and while there’s no reason to ever make a sequel, Butler and Colter make a decent action team. If nothing better comes along — or this release inexplicably makes a mint — maybe audiences will see them this time next year in Plane 2: Plane Harder or maybe After Plane.

Plane is rated R for violence, language, and why isn’t there a satellite phone in the emergency kit? Has Cast Away taught us nothing?

Three skull recommendation out of four

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