{mosimage}Is there another screen actor today who engenders as much audience
goodwill as Samuel L.Jackson? When he first appeared onscreen, about
ten minutes into Snakes on a Plane,
the opening-night crowd at Mann’s Chinese theater — complete with four
young men in matching black suits and afro wigs styled after the star’s
Pulp Fiction persona — roared with approval, confident that
Jackson was about to give somebody (or something) a good ass-whippin’,
or at least lend sarcastic breath to some instantly quotable
catchphrase. The reaction had been only slightly less thunderous when
Jackson’s name appeared in the opening titles, and if a movie — nay, a
cultural event — called Snakes on a Plane is perhaps not where
this classically-trained actor imagined he’d find himself at the age of
57, who is to deny him (or us) the pleasure of an entire movie tailored
to his potent, inimitable Sam Jackson-ness? Were the movie called Sam on a Plane, I doubt it would be any less hotly anticipated.

a moment when Hollywood movies and their marketing campaigns are
becoming ever less distinct entities, there is no happier celebrant of
that blur than Snakes. And just as it has been futile, for well
over a year now, to draw any distinctions between the movie itself and
the cult of fandom that has grown up around it, it would be a fool’s
task to try and evaluate the movie critically apart from the experience
of seeing it with a sold-out, thrilled-to-the-gills audience. So
suffice it to say that at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday night, in one of two
theaters simultaneously screening the movie at the Chinese, Snakes was
the most exuberantly trashy delight of this summer movie season — or
last. I make no claims for how the film will play three or four weeks
from now, in the basement of some overcrowded multiplex: Try that at
your own peril. But I do suspect Snakes will live on as a home
entertainment staple for decades to come, where it will surely reward
repeat viewings made under the influence of alcohol or other
performance-enhancing substances.

Snakes on a Plane is so
fondly nostalgic for a bygone filmmaking era that you shed a tear for
the fact that there aren’t any crumbling Times Square grindhouses left
in which to show it. (Seeing it in the state-of-art environs of the
Chinese feels altogether too classy.) Directed by David R. Ellis from a
script by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez, it’s the closest
thing to a straightforward exploitation picture Hollywood has churned
out in the years since Roger Corman abandoned the theatrical market,
Charles Bronson went into retirement and Cannon Films spiraled into
bankruptcy. Hunger for such a movie is hardly accidental. Snakes arrives
as the much-needed antidote to the ever more self-important summer
blockbusters with their ballooning budgets and poisonously long running
times: Watching it, you can practically hear the collective sigh of
relief when people realize that Ellis and company have no greater
imperative than to deliver one down-and-dirty jolt after another. And I
stress the down-and-dirty part. After internet chatter about Snakes wisely
dissuaded them from striving to stay within the boundaries of a PG-13
rating, New Line and Ellis have pushed the R-rated pedal to the metal,
delivering a movie in which the eponymous reptiles — all hyped up from
inhaling pheromone-scented leis — show a special affinity for their
victims’ private parts and other bodily extremities. (What, after all,
would any good exploitation movie be without its share of bare,
jiggling breasts?)

Set almost entirely during a red-eye flight
from Hawaii to L.A. on a 747 jumbo jet that looks like it hasn’t been
airborne since the ‘70s, Snakes is decked out with a cast of
passengers (including a Beverly Hills princess with her chihuahua in
tow and a stuck-up Brit who mutters “fucking Americans” under his
breath) and crew (a casually chauvinistic copilot, an elderly flight
attendant making one last “tour of duty”) who would do any Airport
movie proud. And yes, in case you were wondering, the stewardess
(Julianna Margulies) does, at one point, end up flying the plane. There
is a plot , lest I forget, about a young surfer dude (Wolf Creek star
Nathan Phillips) who witnesses a mob hit and is now being escorted, by
Jackson’s super-cool FBI agent, to testify in L.A. But let’s face it:
What you really want to know about are the dozens of exotic pythons and
cobras and boas — a mix of the real thing and cartoonishly exaggerated
CGI — stuffed into the cargo hold by said mob goons and destined to
give a new meaning to in-flight entertainment. Well, watching them
wriggle their way up cabin and down (sometimes with the benefit of
green-tinted snake-o-vision), striking at anything and everything that
moves — and yes, in one scene, devouring prey whole — is senseless fun,
as is the movie’s inevitable, retributory second half — When Sam Attacks.

Snakes on a Plane never tips entirely over into self-parody in the way of the greatest scary-funny creep-out movies — namely, Joe Dante’s Piranha and Gremlins. And it’s possible to leave the theater wondering just how much
the filmmakers really were in on their own jokes. But chances are
you’ll be too giddy to think about anything other than a second
helping. Tarantulas on a Train? Scorpions on a Sailboat perhaps? Fear not, the internet is already abuzz.

| Directed by DAVID R. ELLIS | Written by JOHN HEFFERNAN and
| Release by New Line Cinema | Citywide

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