I was just saying to someone the other day that it’s been a while since since I last had an opportunity to enjoy Gerard Butler’s particularly mediocre brand of action cinema.
I’ll admit, I’ve been fairly hard on old Ger over the years, but to give the devil his due, Butler’s pretty much the only big screen action hero left who is still operating on this level and yet still hasn’t been hoovered up to participate in either a superhero franchise or a Fast And Furious sequel which is fairly fucking remarkable when you think about it.
So without further ado, I present to you, Plane, the latest offering from the smirking Scotsman that somehow manages to be a mix of The Delta Force meets Rambo 4 while not being as deliriously over the top as either. But can the filmmakers overcome the stigma of Butler’s “meat and potatoes” style of action everyman and a viciously derivative title in order to allow this movie to take flight?
Commercial pilot Brodie Torrance is hoping that his latest flight goes off without a hitch as he’s counting on making it to his daughter before the world Rings in the new year. However, Brodie better start practicing his apologiesn because despite having a flight virtually devoid of passengers, a lightning strike essentially renders Trailblazer Airlines Flight 119 a gliding brick and the Captain, with the help of his co-pilot Samuel Dele, manages to guide the plane down in one piece to lands on an island somewhere in the South China Sea.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’ve actually landed on Jolo Island in the Philippines, a place ruled by separatists and rebels that is so dangerous, the Filipino Army won’t even bother to go anywhere near it. Landing somewhere in the middle of the good news/bad news spectrum is the presence of homicide suspect and ex-Foreign Legion soldier, Louis Gaspare who was being transported in handcuffs by RCMP officer who regrettably got his skull crunched during the landing (that’s what you get for removing your seatbelt when the sign is illuminated).
However, saving both the script writers, the audience and the characters in the movie a lot of time is the fact that Gaspare is actually somewhat of a decent guy despite what his rap sheet claims and he and Brodie head off into the jungle in order to try and alert the people at Trailblazer HQ to where their flight is.
Of course, sooner or later, Rebel leader Datu Junmar and his band of vicious murderers swing by and take the handful of passengers hostage with the aim to either ransom them or execute then (whatever comes first, I guess) so it becomes a brutal race against time as Brodie and Louis try to free the prisoners while a private military outfit hired by Trailblazer’s crisis manager races to their location. Fuck turbulence – this is the sort of shit that’ll make you buy holiday insurance.
Plane is something of a weird one, because despite being everything you’ve come to expect from Butler’s brand of throwback action flick, I actually wasn’t bored once for the entire duration. Directed with economical competency by Jean-Francois Richet – the man responsible for the Mesrine movies and the Assault On Precinct 13 remake – the movie makes sure it maintains a steady course, refusing to stop for even the slightest of lay overs in order to keep its momentum up. Of course, this might be impressive if the momentum demanded that the movie moved at a determined sprint, slowing every now and then to allow us to catch our breath; but from the moment Flight 119 starts dipping its nose in the direction of Terrorist Island, Plane insists at holding at a steady jog for the remainder of its run time, never once red-lining into the realms of dull, but never peaking into “genuinely exciting” either.
Everyone present does exactly what is written on the tin – the terrorists terrorise, the passengers panic and the heroes gird themselves to do heroic things, and that’s fine; but I can’t help but be confused by the fact that the movie does virtually nothing when it comes to the hulking criminal sitting in the back of the plane.
While some other movies might spice their plots up by having a sweaty, bald, homicide suspect fling a wild card into the mix and having you wonder if he really can be trusted before he inevitably does the right thing in the final reel, Plane seems perfectly content on having the major twist be… the fact there’s no real twist and Gaspare proves to be something of a stand-up guy the moment the cuffs come off. While Luke Cage himself, Mike Colter, does a fine job of looking mean while clutching an assault rifle to his shoulder as his bald dome glistens with sweat, the fact that he instantly falls into buddy mode with Butler feels like a missed opportunity to ratchet up some extra tension – after, this is an action thriller; isn’t this what we’re here for?
The rest of the cast play their stereotypical roles (the American businessman is a prick, so is the British one and the Korean passengers are singled out to show how villainous the villains are) and you can’t help but feel that Daniella Pineda and Tony Goldwyn are somewhat wasted as a tough flight attendant and a facts yelling trouble shooter respectively.
And yet, like I said, the film is never technically boring and moves with all the breezy, laid back confidence of Butler’s crooked smile after a typically “whatever” quip. This everyman phase that Butler’s settled into really does suit him rather well as he’s required to do far more derring do than a commercial pilot (even one with RAF training) would be expected to do, but he still has help in the form of Colter and a special forces unit to bail him out before things get too unbelievable. However, I do confess, I was hoping the movie would trip over into the outlandish a little more often. Oh sure, the plane itself magically fixes itself after being shut off and on like a laptop, Colter’s bizarre belief that a sledgehammer is a perfectly acceptable weapon to use when stealthily taking down guards is magnificently delightful and some brutal death-by-sniper takedowns as viciously satisfying, but you find yourself wishing that Plane would hit the crazy button a little more often at the expense of its suprisingly level flight path.
Way better than I was expecting, but still a tad on the bland side, you’ll look at the title one more time and swear they’ve spelt “Plain” wrong.