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A salacious, slithering sprint through the sky

2.5 out of 4 stars


Snakes on a Plane

Directed by David R. Ellis

Written by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez

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Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Flex Alexander and Kenan Thompson

Classification: 14A

Rating: **½

The first Internet joke ever made into a movie, Snakes on a Plane is just ridiculous and depraved enough to excite a cult following among high campers who are eager to enlist in a movie that gets one over on Hollywood.

For those of you who have spent the last months with your face in a newspaper, Snakes on a Plane was once a low-budget movie concept about, you guessed it, snakes on a plane.

Except producers lacked faith in the project. At one point, New Line Cinema even retreated from the ludicrous high-concept title, changing the name of the movie to -- yawn -- Pacific Air Flight 121.

Right around then, however, jokes and blogs began to spread on the Internet, delighting in the idea of star Samuel L. Jackson going mad in a confined space, surrounded by venomous snakes, swearing up a perfect storm. (And if poisonous vipers and a pilotless 747 that whips around like a deflating balloon aren't maddening enough, Jackson's name in Snakes on a Plane is Neville!)

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The joke Snake scripts and mock ads that appeared on the Internet convinced New Line to take the unprecedented step of reshooting additional material this past March, all of it more salacious than anything in the original script, in hopes of reaching blogger nation , a group that evidently knew how to fly Snakes on a Plane better than the writers and directors the film company hired.

It's pretty easy to figure out the new, Internet audience-friendly stuff in SOAP. And maybe the kick for the film's audience will be to identify where the movie shifts from the safe fun of what is basically an Airplane III-calibre satire, tossing in the rewritten snake-pit bits and bites.

We'll take a wild guess and say that the scene where a guy steps into the airline washroom to relieve himself, only to suddenly find himself better endowed, was probably an afterthought. Same with a sequence where a passenger is surrounded and slurped down head-first by an anaconda, despite being seated in an upright position with his seatbelt securely fastened.

And yes we can confirm that the finished film does replicate the payoff line that was first introduced in an blog parody of SOAP, as FBI agent Neville Flynn (Jackson) comes rampaging back at his tormentors with the shout, "Enough is enough! I have had it with these . . ." Cue the epithet Jackson has made a staple of his career.

What fun! Alas, there is a price to be paid for the high-altitude camping that is Snakes on a Plane. In addition to forking out $12 to get into the theatre, you also have to sit through the first half-hour of the movie, where the film takes flight with the short, stammering hops that characterized Orville and Wilbur Wright's maiden voyage on the Kitty Hawk.

Our tale (tail?) begins with a Hawaiian martial-arts syndicate boss killing a lawyer who hopes to put him away for good. A surfer dude, Sean (Nathan Phillips) oversees the murder. Bad, unsmiling guys are dispatched to rub him out. FBI agent Flynn intervenes, rushing Sean onto a plane bound for L.A. to testify.

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The panicking syndicate boss then slips a jungle-load of poisonous snakes onto the plane about the time a conveyor belt of colourful, antic passengers arrive for boarding -- a group that includes a superstar rapper and a Barbie princess carrying a pwecious widow doggie we know won't make it past the second reel. There is also a capable, wisecracking stewardess (Julianna Margulies) and, what a surprise, a steward who appears to be doing a Paul Lynde impersonation.

The first third of the movie is as clunky and rushed as the clothed bits in a porn flick, offering grim evidence of the cornball express that might have been Pacific Air Flight 121. The Internet-inspired rescue committee arrives after that, with enough cattle-prod shocks and yucks to keep us howling for the remainder of the flight.

Make no mistake: Snakes on a Plane is going to be as big a smash as its core constituency anticipated, although Hollywood studio heads might find it more than a little disturbing to realize they were the silent partners in this summer's surprise slither-away hit.

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