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Judge Bill Gibron • Location: Tampa, FL
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August 21st, 2006 4:26PM

Snakes on a Plane is the missing badass cousin of the original kitschy Airport films from the '70s. It's the unapologetically more professional big brother of all those lame Sci Fi Channel originals featuring oversized crickets and killer amoeba. It's neither the camp classic the Internet hype machine hoped it would be, nor is it the balls to the walls actioner the studios were striving for. Instead, it's a perfect example of the Zen popcorn experience, offering as much goofball yin as cinematic yang. Expertly set up, with a nice drawn out opening that establishes the all important character dynamic, and enough slam bam set pieces to keep us blood and guts buffs ecstatic, this is one of the best balanced films of the entire summer. You're never left wanting as you experience this high concept hoopla. There is just enough of everything that makes an entertaining time at the movies. Heck there's even some additional elements inserted into the narrative just to appease the genre addicts in the audience.

While we will never know how Ronny Yu would have approached this material (his unrated Freddy vs. Jason is a horror fan's fantasy), it is safe to say that director David R. Ellis really stepped up and delivered here. He makes excellent use of the limited space on the aircraft, does a wonderful job of opening up the storyline with the entire FBI/snake expert scenario, and gets his stellar cast to tread lightly between cliché and cleverness for just the right amount of three-dimensional dynamic. Sure, some may grouse about the CGI (frankly, it didn't bother me in the least) and a few of the death F/X look hampered by MPAA demanded cuts (can't wait for the Snakes on a Plane: Unrated DVD in a few months). Still, this is the kind of movie that makes sitting in a theater with a group of like minded moviegoers so much fun. All throughout the running time, the audience I saw it with was laughing, clapping and grooving right along with the action on screen. Ellis had them from the very first moments, and once the reptiles made their appearance, we all simply sat back and bathed in the pulse-pounding Pavlovian pleasures.

Frankly, it's hard to see what people HATE about this film. Granted, it is not perfect. It doesn't try to transcend its b-movie trappings and turn into something other than what it is. But with a title like Snakes on a Plane, it is hard to imagine what they could have been expecting. This isn't meant to be a serious Die Hard like action film, nor is it trying to reinterpret the look and feel of the disaster films from three decades past, ala Poseidon. You go in expecting m******king snakes on a m******king plane, and that's what you get – lots of them, in ever more clever death wielding circumstances. Like the best of the Friday the 13th slasher films, Snakes finds creative ways to put the bite on its victims. No body part is safe, which naturally leads to some very funny dialogue, and the make-up work creates some disgusting, wounds and venom results. With Samuel L. Jackson running around spouting memorable, quotable lines, first rate performances by Julianna Margulies, Kenan Thompson and Sunny Mabrey, and the proper equilibrium between realism and the ridiculousness, we have a wholly realized, expertly handled horror film.

It's just too bad about all the pop culture carnival barking. New Line may have thought it hit pre-hype gold when Internet dorks began piling on the film like it was a video of some chick dancing on YouTube, but in my opinion, it ruined its chances at being a surefire summer blockbuster. Sure, Jackson can be proud that fans felt such a kinship with him as an onscreen icon that they would support his decisions and cries for a more R-rated rollercoaster experience (which, frankly, should not even be an issue – PG13 is KILLING the traditional motion picture macabre), and it's clear that had this movie been cut for a more inclusive demographic the result would have been a massive pile of PC crap. But the minute the web got a hold of this title, New Line just stopped caring. They thought the various technological avenues would translate into ticket sales. Instead of letting critics see it in advance, touting it to the mainstream film fan, and avoiding much of the overall geek feeling, they let the nerd direct the shilling. The result is a movie that may never be seen by the people who'd appreciate it the most. Guaranteed to be one of the biggest DVD releases/rentals when it finally hits stores, Snakes on a Plane could have walked away with the summer turnstile championship. It will have to settle for being one of the best overall entertainments of the season.

8.5 out of 10

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