This is a searing indictment of man's inhumanity to man displayed amidst the turmoil of the age-old conflict of man against nature. No, wait. My bad. It's about motherf***ing snakes on a motherf***ing plane. The sheer simplicity of the film's concept is its greatest strength.
Snakes On A Plane is its own built-in excuse. Whenever something preposterous happens, the viewer just shrugs and says, "Hey, it's Snakes On A Plane. If I wanted gritty realism I'd have rented Mean Girls."
Historically, the film recalls not just the airline disaster movies of the seventies, but also the nature gone amok genre from the same period, represented by Frogs, Fer de Lance (snakes on a submarine, if you will), and a seemingly forgotten tale of bats going bats in a subterranean complex called Chosen Survivors, to name but a few.
Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips ) witnesses a mob hit on Daniel Hayes, a prominent prosecuting attorney from Los Angeles. Hayes has been laboring to put mobster Edward Kim behind bars, but for his troubles Hayes is beaten to death with a baseball bat. Sean is taken into protective custody by FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson), and arrangements are made for Sean to fly to California under FBI protection to testify against Kim.
Why exactly he needs to fly to California to testify about a murder that occurred in Hawaii is not mentioned, but hey, it's Snakes On A Plane. If I wanted a lecture on legal jurisdiction I'd rent High Noon.
The FBI sets up a decoy private jet, while actually transporting Sean on a commercial 747. All the other passengers are forced to travel coach as Flynn has commandeered the first class section for his passenger. Kim's goons are not fooled, though, and they manage to get a large container filled with poisonous snakes from all over the world stowed in the luggage section. The flowered leis the passengers are given have been treated with snake pheromones, making those slithery bastards all the more aggressive.
Screen time is split between the live snakes and their more energetic but far less convincing digital stand-ins. Once the vipers are loose, the plot rarely takes a second to breathe with snakes putting the hurt on the passengers at a breakneck pace. Even the heartiest of souls will cringe when they see the "snake on snake violence" as some poor schmuck just tries to take a leak. These cold-blooded belly-crawlers present not only an immediate threat to the passengers and crew, they also play hell with wiring and ventilation.
Sean is relatively safe in the first class compartment, but he doesn't need to be bitten if the snakes can bring the entire plane down into the Pacific. One might ask why Kim would go to all this trouble. Surely a small, but powerful explosive could do the job more efficiently. True, the plan is as convoluted as anything the worst James Bond villain could concoct, but hey, it's Snakes On a Plane. If I wanted realistic plotting I'd rent Capote.
The film's simplicity carries over into its use of characterization. Everyone in the movie has a personality that can be summed up in a few words: arrogant rap artist, bubble headed socialite, snotty British guy, etc. Even our hero, Agent Flynn, is a career cop with a failed marriage, and flight attendant Claire Miller (Julianna Margulies) is making her last flight before leaving the job. Introducing the characters as they board the plane is also a convenient shortcut, which will seem familiar to anyone who has ever seen The Love Boat.
In the months prior to Snakes' theatrical release, there was buzz on this flick all over the Internet. Not since The Blair Witch Project has a film's online promotion campaign so threatened to outshine the film itself. A catchy, no-BS title, a fast paced script, and the involvement of Samuel L. Jackson, and you've got one good time at the movies.
The film performs the difficult task of being predictable without being boring, and of being preposterous without insulting the viewer's intelligence.