Director: Jean-François Richet
Stars: Mike Colter, Gerard Butler, Remi Adeleke
About as blithely unambitious as its accidentally hilarious title, Plane is a quandary in the January release slate; a ditched straight-to-DVD actioner that has haphazardly crashed into cinemas thanks to the star-wattage of Gerard Butler, himself almost the only flicker of charisma in a movie low on any kind of surprise or suspense.
Butler’s Scottish brogue has been softened and sullied by his time in the states, but he’s at least allowed to trot it out here as commercial pilot Captain Brodie Torrance, a straight-talking no-nonsense type with an estranged daughter and a dead wife. In other words, your textbook action movie everyman looking for a road to redemption. Also on his doomed flight from Singapore to Tokyo is wanted fugitive Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a supposedly-French suspected murder who handily spent time in the Legion. Why handy? Because this plane is destined to crash-land on an island in the South Philippines under the control of some woefully inept and scrawny local militia types. Separated from his soon-to-be-kidnapped passengers, Cap’n Torrance needs some experienced man-power to get them back, and Gaspare’s all he’s got. That is until the airline’s team of mercenaries turn up.
We’re cabin and cockpit bound for the first third of the movie, through which Plane at least earns its boneheaded name. The midair disaster sticks to a believable template, believable enough to send shivers through anyone with anxiety over flying anytime soon. But, like much of the remainder that follows, it is rendered in dull low-light that matches the surprisingly self-serious tone discovered throughout. While openly a throwback to the brainless action fare of the ’80s and ’90s (or even earlier considering the spate of aircraft-based disaster movies that littered the ’70s), Plane wholly skips out on a sense of tongue-in-cheek fun. Torrance’s dexterous ability to land on a fortuitous road in the Filipino jungle might’ve been more effective if its climax wasn’t curiously left on the cutting room floor. We go from full speed to stock-still. And then, so does the movie.
This is one of the least eventful hostage-based actioners presently in circulation. Torrance makes it to a telephone without incident. Torrance and Gaspare rescue captured passengers without incident. The lack of imagination in and around these events is conspicuous, and gratifying action occurs only twice. The first is right after Torrance’s telephone call, when a piece of hand-to-hand combat is captured in a thrilling long take that sees Torrance breathlessly crossing a line. The second is the comedic value of a sniper’s significant high-calibre rifle as he picks off the island’s militia one-by-one near the limp crescendo. Outside of these base thrills, Plane has nothing much to offer.
And, like a lot of the action movies of the eras that inspired it, it all feels just a little bit racist. Not just in its underdeveloped adversaries – just exotic enough for a western audience – but in how it delineates the parcelling of brutality between Torrance and Gaspare. Though we’re urged to suspect Gaspare is at least a partway innocent man who has fallen foul of the law, he has no qualms about dispensing merciless violence on the film’s stock bad guys, handily absolving our white hero of anything too morally circumspect. It may not have been the intention, but lacking any true depth, Gaspare falls into the Black brute caricature of more formative cinema. A little more effort could have prevented this.
But that’s true of all aspects of Plane. The drama at the airline’s crisis room fizzles out as soon as it begins, and meaningful interactions on the ground between cabin crew and passengers is kept to a bare minimum. We’re nominally made aware of Shitty Entitled Businessman™ and Bald English Bozo™ but their input is inconsequential, too.
Ultimately, the most menacing aspect of Plane is a patch of bad weather. It’s all just a little too… plain.