The saddest thing about Plane, an endearingly old school R-rated action romp starring Gerard Butler, is that it is simultaneously the perfect movie to watch on a flight and the absolute last movie you should ever watch on flight. On the one hand, it’s exactly the sort of turn-your-brain-off-and-just-go-with it fluff that fills up the time harmlessly on long hauls. On the other, the only legitimately gripping moment here involves what, at least to these totally unqualified eyes, feels like a fairly realistic power failure at 40,000 feet and subsequent emergency landing. Don’t watch this on a plane. Please. It’ll put you right off your chicken pasta bake.
There was a time (the ’80s) when films like a Plane were a mainstay of movie culture – medium budget, standalone action stories with high concepts and higher body counts, sold on the charisma of a single star turn. Think Commando, Under Siege, Rambo and basically anything made by The Cannon Group. They don’t get made anywhere near as often anymore. Even Jason Statham seems to have moved on. Which is a shame, because in their own way such films are as pure cinema as the auteur-led indie-flicks that win the Palme D’or or the superhero tent poles that keep the business aloft.
Butler plays the superbly-named Brodie Torrance, a slightly weather-beaten airline captain (and “a hell of a pilot”, as we’re inevitably told) retired from the RAF and hauling half-full passenger jets around the pacific. It’s New Year’s Eve, he has to get back to his daughter before the ball drops in Time Square and there’s just one more job to do. Also on that fateful flight is Mike Colter’s Louis Gaspare, an extradited criminal being escorted back to the US. As a young man he committed a terrible crime; since then he’s been on the run, hiding in the French Foreign Legion.
Forced to fly through bad weather (thanks to those penny pinching desk-jockeys back at HQ, am I right?) Butler’s Captain Torrance must attempt to put his bird down safely on the only bit of land available – an island peopled entirely by motiveless and absurdly generic mercenaries with a limitless arsenal of automatic weapons, machetes and rocket launchers, intent on kidnapping the passengers. At which point you realise that a more appropriate name for the film would actually be ‘Island’, as that’s where most of the action takes place.
It’s a wafer-thin plot, and that’s absolutely fine. We’re not really here for subtext. We’re here to watch Captain Torrance and his criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold new buddy shoot people in the head with spectacularly splattery results. We’re here for one liners, we’re here to root for Butler (in his slightly-hangdog mode, as opposed to his heavyweight champion of the world mode) whose charisma carries the whole thing, as is only right and proper. We’re here for the tiny nod to Predator toward the end that suggests this film knows exactly what it is.
There are things that don’t quite work; residual traces of a script that’s been somewhat over-worked. That “New Year’s Eve” thing, which smacks a little of ‘Try Hard-Die Hard’, is abandoned pretty quickly, as is any probing into Colter’s character’s back story. More troubling are the optics of running around a jungle island shooting people of colour in the head. It feels retro in the wrong way. The bad guys are given no real depth, they’re just criminal “foreigners”, and given that the action takes place on an island controlled by mercenaries, it wouldn’t have stretched credulity to make them a more ethnically mixed and less othered bunch of fictional thugs.
Still, this sort of thing rarely holds together if you concentrate too hard. That’s rather the point. As a happily old-school, dumbed down and stupidly violent action romp it ticks the boxes. You’ll have fun with it.