While the ongoing Liam Neeson dad-action-movie concern has been producing ever more diminishing returns, over the last decade and change, just about nobody has so consistently provided sturdy B-movie thrills on the level of Gerard Butler. Year after year, he dutifully and enthusiastically turns out the kind of mid-range, violent thrillers that used to be hitting theaters once a week in the 1990s. From the deeply silly … Has Fallen series to the impending apocalypse of Greenland or the surprisingly epic Heat ripoff Den of Thieves, the sign of an upcoming low-rent Butler actioner has become legitimate cause for excitement.
His latest is no exception. Butler plays Captain Brodie Torrance, a widowed commercial pilot with Trailblazer airlines, tasked with an overnight New Year’s Eve flight from Singapore to Tokyo, after which he’ll be headed to Hawaii to spend the holiday with his daughter. Hopefully the lightning storm he’s been ordered to fly through won’t cause any trouble… whoops, no, there’s a crash landing on a remote island, which turns out to be a haven for Filipino separatists and drug traffickers who like to ransom their kidnap victims, and it’s up to Captain Torrance to save the day. Did I mention that this movie is called Mayday? No, I didn’t, because it’s brilliantly just called Plane. Also on board is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a fugitive who’s headed back to the states for extradition and who has a very conveniently helpful background as a Foreign Legionnaire. Together, Torrance and Gaspare have to infiltrate the enemy stronghold, rescue the passengers, and somehow get off the island to safety. Meanwhile, a couple of big wheels over at the airline (Paul Ben Victor and Tony Goldwyn) are in a command center ordering up a team of private mercenaries to locate the plane and parachute in for a hot extract.
The siege setup and relationship between the two uneasy partners recalls nothing short of Carpenter’s legendary Assault on Precinct 13, and while Plane predictably doesn’t rise to anywhere near those heights, it’s never less than a fully amusing and wholly engaging affair. It may not be original, but it hits every single beat it needs to, from the opening act’s introduction of a motley gaggle of passengers and crew (the grouchy rich guy, the cute girl tourists, the plucky flight attendant, etc.), to a harrowing crash sequence, to Torrance’s selfless hero’s quest to care for his flock. Butler himself is firing on all cylinders here; his Dad energy is confident but quietly terrified. Even though he and we know that he’s in over his head, watching him swim around in all that emotion while still kicking appropriate amounts of ass is a blast the likes of which we rarely get anymore.
Once the third-act action kicks in, Plane realizes its full potential. Director Jean Francois-Richet (who coincidentally helmed the 2005 Precinct 13 remake) stages the action cleanly and clearly, even though the handheld can be a little too much to handle sometimes. The plane crash itself is appropriately exciting, and a fun mid-movie fistfight comes off in a single wobbly take, but the mercenary- assisted breakout-and-escape finds the film’s peak in a rising and violent climax. Especially appreciated here is a gag involving what a .50 caliber sniper round does to a human body, something that gets repeated four or five times (and frankly, that’s not enough). A delightful example of a movie doing exactly what it promises with absolutely no frills or pretense, Plane is the kind of movie that should be coming out twice a month.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 2