Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Oh great..snakes on crack!

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The nature strikes back/airline disaster flick Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide this past Friday, and, like Superman Returns and Peter Jackson's King Kong, it has already been accused of being a "box-office disappointment" and a "flop", even after occupying the #1 spot at $15.2 million. Now, the way I feel about people who measure a film's worth soley by it's opening weekend gross is a different story altogether, but I really can't help thinking that critics and number-watchers have overestimated the "massive online fanbase" of this so-called "most anticipated movie of the summer."

The fact of the matter is, most of the people who have been making such a hoopla online are message board dweebs who thought the title was hilarious and loved the idea of Jules Winnifield running around shouting "I want these muthafuckin' snakes off this muthafuckin' plane!" But I'm willing to bet that less than half of them actually planned to leave their houses to go and see the thing. It's the same as the "Chuck Norris Facts" which have been plaguing the internet - how many people who claim that Chuck Norris gave Baby Jesus the gift of "beard" have actually seen Walker Texas Ranger, Lone Wolf McQuade, or Top Dog? Participating an internet fad is effortless, but actually going to a movie requires leaving one's house and parting with a hard-earned $8.00. Two-thirds of this film's online fanbase are probably using their preferred medium to just download it.

That said, I was lucky enough to catch the the film last night at a drive-in theater with Jessica, Andrew and Doug, and I had a freakin' blast. This is a near-perfect modern exploitation film - it knows exactly how ridiculous its premise is (which, for those of you who've been living away from computers for the past few months, involves an FBI agent played by Samuel L. Jackson who is transporting a mob murder witness on a Honolulu to L.A. flight, only to discover that the mobsters have released a crate of drugged and pissed-off snakes upon the passengers) but it doesn't wink constantly at the screen. It plays it straight, but not too straight - it knows that nobody's watching it for character drama, we're watching it to see passengers get attacked by snakes. I think we get a solid 35 minutes througout of snake-induced mayhem, and that includes snakes jumping out of the overhead compartments, snakes taking out the pilots leaving nobody to fly the plane, snakes attacking breasts, boa constrictors swallowing chihuahuas and human beings, and Samuel L. Jackson running around electrocuting snakes with a taser. It's quite amazing to see.

As ludicrous as the premise is, the screenwriters wisely decided not to make it even more ridiculous by camping it up. They could very well have given the snakes individual personalities to try and humanize them, but they wisely opted to just make them all act like mindless killing machines, which is pretty much how I'd expect a bunch of doped-up snakes to behave if they were in a closed environment with people. The scenario never gets tiresome due to the human characters, including Jackson's badass but very likeable FBI agent, as well as the mysogenistic pilot (David Koechner), the nerdy snake expert (Todd Louiso), the resorceful flight attendants, the germaphobic rap star, the snotty Englishman, the cell-phone wielding yuppie woman, and the two kids traveling on their own. And they aren't always flailing around and getting bitten, they're all given a lot to do when they have to barricade the first-class section from the snakes, climbing through the bowels of the plane when the snakes knock out the power, and figuring out how to work together with each other (hargh!) in the heat of peril.

Make no mistake, this is a movie which contains nothing to say about Life, the Universe and Everything, nor will it make you a better person, but as far as pure stupid fun goes, you'd be hard pressed to beat its B-movie charm. It's free of all the angst and pretension of other disappointments (The Descent, I'm looking at you) and delivers the goods. Intentionally cheesy, but never deliberately camp, chaotic without being malicious or melodramatic, an utterly simple concept that never gets repetitive or dull. In essence, it's the stuff that the very best of check-your-brain summer popcorn entertainment is made of.