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Film review: 'Snakes on Plane' is stiff, silly

Published: Saturday, Aug. 19 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

"SNAKES ON A PLANE" — ** 1/2 — Samuel L. Jackson, Byron Lawson; rated R (violence, language, sex, nudity, drugs); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Cinemark 24 at Jordan Landing; Century Theatres 16 (Sandy); Century Theatres 16 (South Salt Lake); Megaplex 12 at the Gateway; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons; Megaplex 20 at the District; Red Carpet 5-Star and Gateway 8 Cinemas; Redwood Drive-in; Westates Holladay Centre Cinemas 6.

The title is to the point, "Snakes on a Plane" delivers snakes on a plane. About 400 of them. Fortunately, not a one of them is a match for Samuel L. Jackson, who remains the baddest man on the screen when it comes to kickin' butt. (Do snakes have butts? Well, you know what I mean.)

"Snakes," in case you've been in media withdrawal, is a thriller that wraps a great, to-the-point movie title around two big-time phobias for the price of one.

Based on just the title and the participation of Jackson, "Snakes" (or SoaP, as the fans call it) has become a rage on the Internet, even before anyone has seen it. Keeping it under wraps was part of the studio's marketing strategy, so no critics got to see the film until its official public opening at 10 p.m. Thursday night.

I know my duty. I was there, along with about a hundred hard-core SoaP fans, about 95 percent males and all about 18 or 20. (It seemed like a frat party, without a keg.). And I even had some fun, though the roughhouse giggles and guffaws don't set in till the snakes are sprung loose on the plane, at least a half-hour or 40 minutes into the flick.

Here's the set-up: Jackson is a federal officer, escorting a surfer from Hawaii who witnessed a mob murder back to Los Angeles to testify. The mobster needs him dead, so he ships 400 snakes on board the jet, has them coated with some sort of chemical that makes them hyper, and puts them in a big box that explodes open in the hold at a predetermined time (when the plane is at 30,000 feet).

Once the snakes go into action, mayhem quickly ensues. (The first two major attacks, by the way, reflect the film's boys-night-out demographic: A buxom lass is fatally bitten on her breast while engaging in some mile-high-club sex in the airplane john. And a guy is bitten in the crotch while going to the bathroom in another john.)

If you take away the colorful Jackson and the snake madness, "Snakes" would never get off the ground. The dialogue is stiff and silly, sometimes approaching the camp of "Airplane!" And the prerequisite disaster-flick passenger manifest is in place, with two children flying alone, a woman with a baby, another with a dog, a honeymooning couple. All we're missing is the singing nun.

But none of that matters when Jackson starts calling the snakes foul names, with his special flair for profanity, and shooting them with a homemade flamethrower. Then it's all mano y snako, and lots of silly fun.

At least "Snakes on a Plane" doesn't try to be anything but what it is.

"Snakes on a Plane" is rated R for violence, language, sex, nudity, drugs. Running time: 106 minutes.

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