Fangs, fur and fun: Samuel makes ‘Snakes’ take off

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2006


  "Snakes on a Plane" New Line Cinema 1 hour, 46 minutes

"Snakes on a Plane"

New Line Cinema

1 hour, 46 minutes

I was in the video store the other day and a brightly colored, action-filled selection caught my eye. This little gem, sitting there oddly unrented, was entitled “KvC” which I discovered, upon further inspection, stood for “Komodo versus Cobra.” Ahhh. This would explain the giant mutated Komodo dragon and cobra fight in full display on the box’s cover.

Of course — evil government scientists, giant reptiles, a cool, stylized title — box office gold, right? Wrong. Straight to video. And why, you may ask? Because, in the lead role, the producers of “KvC” were only able to procure a tepid Michael Paré (Eddie, of “Eddie and the Cruisers”) and not the smokin’ hot star of this week’s airborne reptile riot, Samuel L. Jackson.

“Snakes on a Plane” is perhaps the most bizarre example of filmic reverse psychology that I can think of, and without Jackson’s involvement, no one would have ever heard of it.

Basically it happened like this: Somehow, someone was able to feed Jackson’s camp a ridiculous script about a Los Angeles detective who has to save a plane full of passengers from hundreds of poisonous snakes; snakes placed there by a vicious kick-boxing villain who wants to snuff a government witness. Against all odds, Jackson, who, with his involvement in the latest “Star Wars” trilogy has surpassed Harrison Ford as the world’s highest-grossing box office star, agrees to do the movie.

Why? Because the placeholder title on the script is the hilariously straightforward description, “Snakes on a Plane.” Apparently Sam has a sense of humor. Now, at some point, the producers of this low-budget creature-feature came to the realization that, “Hey! We’ve got Sam Jackson! We better take this seriously!”

Job one was to get a new name, but Jackson was having none of it. In fact, when informed that the title was changing, the star threatened to walk, agreeing to stay only if the film remained, now and forever, “Snakes on a Plane.”

Well, it’s a good thing that Jackson was feeling mercurial, because a tidal wave of buzz was beginning to swell on the Internet, all surrounding the star and his ridiculous new project. Lo and behold, the producers and the studio had something they could never have expected. Anticipation. People were talking. Sure, they were talking about how dumb the movie was going to be, but they were excited.

The suits rushed back to the drawing board, hoping to capitalize on this bizarre turn of events. They poured more money into the production, mounted a huge advertising campaign and allowed the film to slide from a PG-13 to an R, to allow for more Jackson-esque dialogue and a longer, even more gratuitous “mile-high club” scene. The end result? Like something out of the bizarro universe, a movie about a guy fighting pythons and rattlers at 35,000 feet is the number one film at the box office. Go figure.

Now, this is a terrible movie. The acting is bad, the dialogue is worse and the parts of the film that were shot before the big budget infusion look like they are from a TV movie. But all that is what makes it so great. This is a little like “Catwoman,” except a little more self-aware. I almost wish they hadn’t put more money into the production, as it takes away from the seediness.

At times the rubber snakes are hilariously fake, though some of the computer-generated ones did make me jump. And there are all manner of snakes — rattlers, cobras, sidewinders, pythons, coral snakes — I think I even saw a furry snake.

I guess it’s likely that much of that extra budget went into blood and leaping snake effects and not into research. It’s a waste of time to even ask how, when you can’t get a nail file on a plane, they were able to sneak on an Anaconda.

Do stay for the credits, however, as there is a great music video played alongside.

Parts of the movie feel as though the actors know it’s all a big joke, but these parts are decidedly less fun than when it’s played seriously. Jackson, of course, knows how ridiculous it all is, but he plays his role to the hilt, rarely even cracking a smile. And when, at that pivotal moment, Samuel Jackson utters his undeniably classic line, “That’s it! I’ve had it with these @#$%@#* snakes on this @#$%@#* plane!” the audience I was with cheered. That’s what we came to see. One of the biggest stars in the world saying, basically, “I can do anything I want. If I want to do a movie simply because I think the title is funny, I will. And you’ll come see it. Sucker!” Although I’m sure when Jackson says it, there’s more ampersands and asterisks in it.

This isn’t high art. This isn’t even a good idea. But I’m so glad I saw this on a big screen, and not simply as part of a DVD double-feature with “KvC.” Way to go, Sam. Grade: D+ or A- depending on how you look at it.

“Snakes on a Plane” is rated R for sex, nudity, gore, language and leaping snake violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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