Movie Review: Plane
I had precisely 3½ thoughts while watching the exceedingly entertaining and ridiculously titled new thriller Plane. The first: This trashy little thing is the perfect smart-dumb movie for the soul-deadening weeks of January. The second: You know, I’m pretty sure that with just a smidge of training and discipline, I could fly a plane. The second-and-a-half: No, that is the worst idea that I have ever had; so many people would die. And the third thought: Gerard Butler doesn’t get the credit that he so richly deserves.
More than 15 years after his bare-chested breakout in the blood-soaked epic 300, the Scottish actor occupies a fascinating place in the Hollywood ecosystem. His recent crop of blue-collar thrillers – which almost exclusively cast him as a family man trying to either reunite with his loved ones or avenge their brutal deaths – are consistent B-movie-plus efforts, straddling the line between big-screen crowd-pleaser and straight-to-video-on-demand scuzz-fest.
By this point in his career, Butler will never be offered to headline a superhero movie like his one-time contemporary Hugh Jackman or lead a Sundance indie drama like Jeremy Renner – just as he also won’t be forced to mug with Kevin Hart like Dwayne Johnson or withstand Ryan Reynolds’s smirk in some expensively forgettable Netflix write-off.
Instead, thanks to his improbable Olympus/London/Angel/ Has Fallen franchise (up next: Night Has Fallen!) and his grittier crime-and-punishment outings like Law Abiding Citizen and Den of Thieves, Butler has built up his own niche of grizzled, down-and-dirty ridiculousness. The actor gives off the effortless air of an underdog fighter who knows nothing but survival. Stick with him, and you’ll make it through the night/the movie’s run-time.
Which is exactly the kind of low-rent-but-high-effort energy that Butler uses to fuel Plane, a film that unfolds like a series of increasingly outlandish screenplay-writing “What If …?” exercises.
What if, for instance, Butler played respected airline pilot Brodie Torrance, who is hoping to complete a Singapore-to-Tokyo leg in order to reunite with his college-aged daughter … but that straightforward job is complicated by the presence of a handcuffed passenger named Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) who is being transferred by a federal agent to prison? And what if the plane ride then encountered severe weather … but Brodie was able to guide the aircraft to safety on an island in the middle of the Philippines?? And what if Brodie needs to free Louis from his handcuffs in order to help with life on the island … but everyone’s new home was actually ruled by a lawless Filipino militia??? And what if Louis is a kind-hearted former member of the French Foreign Legion … but speaks with absolutely no trace of an accent????
I think that by this point you know whether the latest guns-and-ammo exercise from director Jean-François Richet (Blood Father) is either too absurd or just absurd enough for your tastes. But no matter your stomach for copious acts of kneecapping and throat-slitting, Butler brings a believable sense of gravitas to the proceedings. He gets, and looks, tired. He sweats, he bleeds, he struggles. But as dedicated Butler-heads by now know, he gets the job done. One murder at a time.
Richet also gets bonus points for staging a series of surprisingly effective, relatively no-frills set-pieces, starting with a genuinely terrifying scene of plane turbulence and concluding with a showdown involving dozens of bad guys, black-ops mercenaries, the disembodied voice of Tony Goldwyn (playing the airline’s crisis-management expert) shouting orders, and a bullet-riddled Butler attempting to [redacted]. It is all such gloriously smart stupidity that you cannot help but applaud everyone involved for sticking the landing.