Goofy Return to Epics

Snakes on a Plane. Samuel L. Jackson and Julianna Margulies star in a film written by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez and directed by David R. Ellis.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

Mm-hmm, that’s good satire. We all know send-ups can be broad like Airplane!, rich and diffuse like Kung Fu Hustle, or lovingly cut from the same cloth as in Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness. Now, we have David R. Ellis’s Snakes on a Plane, which is an un-smug, goofy return to the epic disaster films of yore.

From Airport! to Earthquake, the structure of that essentially 1970s genre was to first painstakingly introduce a cast of seemingly random characters and then wreak bloody havoc on them. This film, both hilarious and gruesome, harkens back to a cheesier, more risk-taking epoch of Hollywood. Opening in Hawai‘i, for the first half hour it’s lit like an explosion in a pastel leisure suit factory. With a few deft, corny moves, including a pheromone spray on leis, it becomes an attack on every orifice of the human body.

Ellis, who has been around action movies all his life, directed the tense, underrated Cellular last year. He knows when to move slowly to establish the sweet and sour sides of his protagonist/victims. But even better, he knows how to unleash spasms of mayhem with a wicked sense of humor.

Of course, Samuel L. Jackson is the real reason to see this film. What other star could play both a Jedi knight and a Tarantino hit man with such extroverted grace? He’s an actor who understands that movies are bigger than life, and yet he’s not afraid to be upstaged by a motherf@$*#& animatronic python on a motherf@$*#& plane.

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