Monday, August 21, 2006

REVIEW: Snakes on A Plane

Like you really need to ask?

Let's clear something up here: There's been essentially two levels to the bizzare hype over "Snakes on A Plane." The first level was the honest one, born when New Line Cinema learned that their perfectly over-expository title has become a go-to laugh-line for web chatting movie geeks and elected to "just go with it." (In a way, it was no different from the way the producers of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" were working hard to turn the "did they or didn't they?" buzz about it's stars into ticket sales.)

The second level is the one that's caused all of the silliness and overkill. That would be the level wherein the mainstream entertainment press, who's cluelessness as to the workings of "geek-based" internet buzz is matched only by their contempt-toward and hyperbolic paranoia-about it, got hold of the story. Or, rather, got hold of what they thought was the story: "Would you look at these NERDS so excited to see a dumb killer-snake movie?" The bemusement (poorly) masked a snide sneer, as if the "internet guys" falling in love with raw stupidity was a validation of everything so much of the traditional film press seems to believe about them... that the demographic they blame for foisting all those Hobbits, zombies and icky-icky-icky superhero movies on them really are just a bunch of weirdos with bad taste.

Which was, of course, missing the point. The crowd that fell hard for this story - about, for the record, a mobster who tries to kill a witness against him by releasing an army of venomous snakes onto the passenger plane the FBI is using to anonymously transport him - did so because it was assured to be a hokey, goofish B-movie. They're crap-detector is every bit as acute (in most case much more acute) as the average professional critic or entertainment writer, the key difference being that for the archetypal film geek the watching of a wonderfully-bad movie constitutes something of a sport. To put it plainly, if the words "Mystery Science Theater 3000" carry no meaning for you, you'll never understand what the big deal was about "SoAP."

This kind of thing has happened plenty of times before, like whenever Uwe Boll releases a new movie, and most memorably for me being a few years back when Vincent D'Onoffrio's insanely strange delivery of the insanely-awful line " ALIEN with a BOMB in it's RIB-CAGE!!!!!!!" from the (awful) 2002 movie "Impostor" became a summer-long running joke on message board everywhere. The difference was that this time, for really the first time, the studio decided to play along and turn "look at all the people talking about this" into a marketing device. And now that (surprise!) said marketing hasn't brought about the highest-grossing film in motion picture history, the vultures are out in force: "Y'see!? Y'see!? DOOOM is the fate of he who pays any mind to the web geeks!" Hoping against hope that this will be the one that "does it in," and they'll never have to sit through another major movie about a costumed vigilante or a giant gorrilla again.

Humbug and poppycock! The entertainment press, having already completely missed the point of the "Snakes" phenomenon now wants to condemn it for not being what only they ever worried it would be. Nevermind the fact that a mid-budget "how many ways can we find for a snake to kill someone" schlockfest topping the boxoffice is a pretty interesting occurance in it's own right, the film itself remains precisely what it's original pre-fans always hoped it would be: A knowing throwback to the high-concept larfs of days past, awash in copious gore, eye-rolling dialogue and deaths that film geek's love being able to see coming a mile away.

I love being able to see this kind of thing on a big screen with legitimate actors and real effort instead of as a not-even-trying entry on the SciFi Channel. I love seeing the inspired-silliness of the improvised snake-fighting weapons. I love star/original-biggest-fan Samuel L. Jackson's 100% straight-faced performance. I love that the first victims are, yes, the hypersexual drug-using young couple. I love how "doomed" the goody-good passengers already seem right off the bat. I love how determinedly the resident-asshole character begs for his own demise. I love that the "what next?" moment involves the arrival of a giant-sized Python. I love that the bad guy assures his underlings that he's "already exhausted every other option" (what I wouldn't give to know what was the runner-up to "put snakes on the plane.") I love how brazenly (yet not-unsubtley) the film plays on collective fears (and collective revenge/empowerment fantasies) about post-911 air travel. And I adore the sheer preposterousness of the eventual "how to get rid of the snakes" solution. Heck, I even love that the makers knew their material enough to end with a horrible snake-themed Nu-Metal power ballad... though I most-definately despise the song itself.

Set the hype (or, rather, the hype about the hype) aside. This is everything a junky time-waster should be, as fine a guilty pleasure as going to the store and finding a candy bar you'd thought they stopped making years ago. You know right away whether or not you're the right audience for a movie called "Snakes on A Plane," and if there's even a shred of a chance that you'll enjoy it you probably will.