Plane Review – A Turbulent Ride That Doesn’t Stick The Landing

Plane Review – A Turbulent Ride That Doesn’t Stick The Landing

Plane is a movie we’ve all seen a hundred times before. A renegade hero has to team up with an unlikely ally in need of redemption, there’s a foreign bad guy for reasons, and a few badass side characters who also offer some comedic relief. That’s the formula for Plane, and a million other movies like it. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, it’s a fantastically fun romp.

Gerard Butler plays Trailblazer pilot Brodie Torrance. He’s on a mission to get back to his daughter by midnight on New Year’s Eve, but a corporate suit worried about saving pennies on fuel instructs him to fly through a storm. It’s nothing he and co-pilot Samuel Dele (portrayed believably green by Yoson An) can’t handle. That is until the addition of FBI prisoner Louis Gaspare (played by Luke Cage’s Mike Colter) spooks the crew and passengers. Predictably, the plane goes down and Torrance has to make an emergency landing on a remote island in the Philippines. As luck would have it, it happens to be overrun by violent separatists who take everyone but Torrance and Gaspare hostage, leaving the unlikely duo to save the day. Yes, the setup is exactly as silly as it sounds.

This is a tight, 100-minute film that feels like it’s had at least an hour carved out of it. Crew members and passengers are introduced as they enter the titular plane only to barely get any screen time. So little in fact, that when they’re taken hostage it’s hard to care. In a better picture, An would have been granted an opportunity to play the hero while in captivity, but he’s sadly relegated to the role of submissive Asian sidekick.

This is in stark contrast to the separatist villains, darker-skinned Southeast Asians who want hostages because… I honestly couldn’t tell you. They’re jungle savages, what more do you need to know? The Filipino army refuses to step foot on the island so it seems they’ve achieved the independence they desire. The leader, Datu Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor) says he wants people to pay attention, but to what specifically is never mentioned. He does, however, have the most luscious curls I’ve ever seen on a villain.

Colter embodies the role of Gaspare brilliantly. His hulking physique is on constant display, biceps shining with sweat as he hugs his rifle and traverses the humid jungle, damp vest clinging to his bulging pecs. The actor tries to portray a hidden depth in his character, only to have his performance hindered by a mediocre script. Suspected of murder, all we find out is he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Plane relies on his mass and Blackness to make us think he could be guilty. He’s hamfistedly portrayed, through extreme close-ups and tense music, as a menacing guy. He also explodes with anger when filmed by another passenger, for reasons that are never explained. But once the handcuffs are off, he’s an amicable and helpful ally to Torrance. A charitable reading would be Plane is asking us to reassess our preconceived bias, but given the stereotypical portrayal of East and Southeast Asians, I doubt it.

Butler plays Torrance exactly as you’d expect. He’s a capable, grizzled pilot with a heart of gold, willing to risk his life for those under his wing at a moment’s notice. He plays by his own rules, much to the annoyance of the corporate suits trying to do damage control from their New York office, but this just endears us to him more. His tragically deceased wife and pretty daughter waiting for him on a tropical beach in Hawai’i mean we have no choice but to root for his safe return, and show how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the hostages.

Its many tropes are reminiscent of ‘90s and early ‘00s action movies, but when presented in the modern age as an entirely serious package, it comes across as laughably camp. It’s schlocky because Plane takes itself 100 percent seriously and utterly fails. It’s because of this that it’s actually quite fun to watch.

Everything is over the top yet also a bit naff. Inside the plane during the storm, the shakiest shaky cam to ever shake obscures things so much that it’s hard to tell who’s even being thrown around. Meanwhile, exterior shots make the plane look like a children’s toy. This is a mid-budget movie if ever I’ve seen one.

A crisis management expert is called into the New York office and, without a shred of irony, tells the airline boss to “clear the lawyers” from the room before suggesting the use of private military contractors due to the Filipino army’s refusal to engage with the separatists. Why does an American airline have a fixer with mercs in the Philippines on speed dial? Shut up, that’s why.

If Plane were more self-aware it would read like a send-up of the type of film it is, but you’re not meant to laugh at it, that’s what makes it so funny. Plane doesn’t ask, it expects you to believe in its premise entirely. During the media preview, fake air hostesses asked attendees where they were flying to, and border control checked tickets made to resemble boarding passes. In lieu of trailers and adverts, we got a full aircraft safety demonstration, complete with life jackets and staff asking if our imaginary seatbelts were fastened before the lights went out. If every screening of the film had this level of theatrics, I’d encourage everyone to have a few drinks and enjoy the ride.

If you can suspend your disbelief and shed your critical gaze, the bromances, quips, and shootouts make for a good time. Unfortunately, racial stereotypes that are stuck in the past and a complete lack of character development make Plane stall before it can take off.

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