Editor's note: Our reviewer gave this movie two ratings - 1 Star, as a film, and 5 stars, as an experience. For posterity, we've split the difference, and given it 3 stars. Your milage may vary.
A studio is setting itself up for failure when it expends as much energy hawking a movie as exploitative crap as New Line Cinema did with Snakes on a Plane. After months of careful product positioning ' including critical reshoots designed to amp up its cheap-thrill factor ' Snakes couldn't just be Glitter bad or Coyote Ugly bad. It had to be splendidly awful enough to remember for a long time, like even the following morning.
That's obviously what was desired by the audience that showed up for the movie's first public screening (10 p.m. last Thursday) at Regal Winter Park Village Stadium 20. Some young fellows in the back row, for instance, had been sitting patiently since at least 30 minutes before showtime, pounding smuggled-in brews and breaking out actual party balloons they would later put to a highly creative purpose: When star Samuel L. Jackson made his first appearance on screen, they would cry out 'Samuel!â?� en masse, raise the balloons to their lips and huff energetically, as if it were a religious ritual. Which I guess it now is.
But although excitement and expectations ran high, the turnout was fairly sparse ' a harbinger of the anemic $15 million the movie was to earn over the ensuing weekend. Has the immediacy of viral communication attained such velocity that even seeing a film the day before it opens is now considered being behind the curve? Obviously, a large portion of its target audience thought it had already had the Snakes experience without seeing the movie itself.
If you ask me, the no-shows were too harsh by about 12 hours, because Snakes was the best instantly disposable cinematic event I've attended since Bride of Chucky was launched on an unsuspecting world eight years ago. The room was in delirious stitches from the opening scenes, in which a luckless bystander (Nathan Phillips) witnesses an unspeakable act committed by a Hawaiian crime lord (Byron Lawson, snarling and lunging as if he's in an Andy Sidaris movie). Soon, the witness comes under the wing of enigmatic/underwritten FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson), who spirits him onto a California-bound jet to testify against the criminal. Also on board: a cargo hold's worth of deadly snakes, which the bad guys have empowered to bring down the entire aircraft by shooting them up with enough pheromones to put them in a murderous frenzy. (I understand this is what Roxy used to be like on Monday nights.)
What happens next adheres endearingly to the trajectory of a typical made-for-TV movie from 1975, albeit with all the nudity, gore and profanity we wish had been in those things in the first place. Unconvincingly rendered snakes attack every sensitive part of the human anatomy as the passengers and crew fight for survival, led by a former series star (in this case, Julianna Margulies) who's visibly disgusted that her career has sunk to this. Cultural stereotypes abound, thanks to the presence on board of an arrogant hip-hop star (Kenan Thompson is part of his entourage) and a swishy flight attendant who becomes the butt of some unavoidable 'suck out the poisonâ?� jokes. And true to genre form, there's a significant lull about two-thirds of the way through ' at which point I felt myself starting to nod off, since it was getting late and I was a little bombed. But I was jolted back to attention by Jackson's impassioned delivery of his signature line, 'I've had it with these muthafuckin' snakes on this muthafuckin' plane!â?� Whatever he said next was lost to history, drowned out by the most fervent cheering I've heard in a decade of doing this job.
Some of my fellow critics weren't as swayed, pronouncing the movie slow and uneven as the end credits rolled. I understand the criticism, but I don't share it. Since the glory days of William Castle, grindhouse immortality has depended on disappointing your audience in all the right ways. Pacing and character are not only superfluous but necessary sacrifices to the great god of cheese. It's the difficult trick of making a moviegoer feel utterly ripped off but never for a minute shortchanged.
That's why our neighbors with the balloons were on their feet and applauding heartily. The movie had clearly satisfied their only serious criteria, in that it sucked ' hard ' and snakes were totally on the plane. Castle, I think, would have approved. And I wouldn't have missed it for a whole 10 dollars.