Kudos to my friend C -- not her real name -- who agreed to accompany me to see Snakes on a Plane yesterday. We'd each seen everything else that we agreed was of value, and what better way to wind up the summer than with a scary film of questionable quality?
It's inevitable that the buildup would be more fun to savor than the film itself. Films like SoaP (summer thrillers is the category, I guess) are akin to rides on a roller coaster. First, it seems like a good idea. Then, once you get on the ride or in the theater, it seems like not such a good idea -- in fact, you remember ten other things you'd rather do. After the first thrill -- a good long drop or, say, an attacking reptile -- you start feeling like maybe this isn't so bad after all. Then you get all caught up in the motion and come off the ride or out of the film with a big smile on your face.
Thus it is with Snakes. The initial story, necessary though it is, drags. FBI guy Samuel L. Jackson saves Surfer Boy, who witnessed a nasty crime in Hawaii. Instigator of said crime is established as a nasty and connected dude. Time to fly Surfer Boy to L.A. to testify. Ominous music finally starts....we see the cargo hold, but not what's in that mysterious cabinet behind the boxes of leis sprayed with snake pheromone.
After much delay the plane takes off and (groan) so does the movie. A special feature is what I'd like to call Snake-o-Vision, where we see the snake's point of view through what looks like muddy night-vision goggles. That way, alas, we always know who's going to get it, and when. That is, if they don't escape certain death by chance or purpose. The scariest attacks are the ones without Snake-o-Vision because they are total surprises, duh.
Once the snakes get out, mayhem ensues, in several stages. Most of the characters who seemed doomed at the beginning, or who are annoying enough to "deserve it" in the logic of these films, do indeed meet a snakey end. The final scenes, with a unique solution to getting rid of all the snakes, is fun and seems ingenious, although who knows or cares if it would work. Samuel L. Jackson is properly authoritative, Julianna Margulies is game (surely after the E.R., a crippled plane is a piece of cake), and all else acquit themselves well. (No one has to work particularly hard to do this.)
Major disappointment: Snake-o-Vision gives too much foreshadowing before a snake strikes.
Minor disappointment: Samuel L. Jackson doesn't say, to paraphrase, "Get these mofo snakes off this mofo plane" until rather late in the film.
Don't be scared: The snake closeups are obviously all animated fakes; still, next time I see a rattlesnake on a hike I am going to give it even more space.