Plane is what we call a January-Ass Movie.
The January Movie elements are all there. It has a one-word title and a shockingly stupid high concept. Gerard Butler is in it. The lead character’s name is “Brodie Torrance,” he’s hyper-competent at everything from first aid to fighting, and yes, he has a pretty daughter who he very much loves. It’s directed by a French guy with a thin resume. It was juggled among studios for years, with Lionsgate holding it two different times. The only thing missing is Liam Neeson.
And while Plane certainly feels like it was conceived with Neeson in mind until the producers settled for Butler, its plot is so timeless that it could very easily have come out in 1986 and starred Dolph Lundgren.
The film is ridiculous throughout, its visual style is cruddy, and it’s nowhere near as ambitious or over the top as other airplane-based action films like Con Air, Air Force One, and Executive Decision, all released in the mid-1990s. I don’t expect to think about it much beyond two or three days from now, and it’s fairly clear that the film’s absurd title will be remembered most about it.
But Plane is not without its share of fun. And as a January-Ass Movie, it provides us critics something mindless to watch, following months of earnest Oscar bait.
Plane stars Butler as the aforementioned Brodie Torrance. He’s a pilot for a cut-rate airline, blackballed from more respectable jobs because he once punched out a passenger who had punched him first. This recalls another airborne action movie, Con Air, in which we learn Nicolas Cage’s character was sentenced to prison for a decade for defending his wife against some drunk rednecks trying to rape his wife and killing one of them.
Flying the Singapore-to-Tokyo route on New Year’s Eve so he can get home to his beloved daughter, Brodie has to land the plane Sully-style when it’s struck by lightning. So they end up on an island in the Philippines, led by violent separatists.
The exact nature and background of their political cause are very much beyond the movie’s ken, and they don’t get much character development beyond “they’re very willing to kill.” Meanwhile, a passenger appears to be Muslim, indicating that the film will have something to say about racial profiling, but I don’t think that guy ended up having a speaking role.
Butler’s pilot has to team up with a convicted murderer (Mike Colter) being extradited out of the country to free the rest of the passengers and get them out of the country while simultaneously engaging in surprisingly violent gun and hand-to-hand battles with the militia. I didn’t think airlines still transported dangerous murderers on commercial flights alongside civilians, although it did lead to a memorable Seinfeld gag.
Meanwhile, we see the airline brass trying to get them out from their end.
Speaking of that brass- between their casting with great character actors (Paul Ben-Victor as the CEO, Tony Goldwyn as a fixer) and the revelation that airlines keep teams of mercenaries on retainer all over the world, I was considerably more interested in what was going on with their part of the plot than in what Butler and Colter were doing on the ground.
The action is fun, and Butler is reasonably charismatic, even as he more and more resembles Mel Gibson the older he gets. He’s one actor whose good movie percentage is surprisingly low, but this is one of his better ones.
There are some plot holes, though. Every clue in the first half hour is that the people running the airline are craven bean counters who don’t care if their customers live or die, but they get suddenly develop more of a conscience as the movie goes on. And those execs don’t seem to notice, in the end, that the murderer they’re transporting appears to have wandered off freely. But Plane is a movie that’s not for people who care about plot holes.
The only real surprise in the movie is that the daughter gets held hostage or brought into peril. That will have to wait for Plane 2, probably next January.