Gerard Butler has become as reliable an action star as Liam Neeson in my book. He may not have the range that some other actors have, but I have never thought he was not up to the task. His film series about Secret Service Agent Mike Banning may be over the top, but they are exceptionally entertaining. The first one is so solid it trumps the doppelganger version done with Channing Tatum and Jamie Fox by a mile. The high concept, low budget “CopShop” was a surprising little piece that I enjoyed the heck out of two years ago. “Plane” is going to go in the same box. This is exactly what it sets out to be, a high tension thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat for a couple of hours and make you glad you spent the time and the money. Maybe it’s not great drama, but it is great entertainment.
You might be lead to believe that the film is all about the hostage drama that involves the passengers of a downed plane and criminal separatists on a Philippine island. That plotline does play out and it is the focus of the second half of the movie, but a lot happens before the passengers become captives. You will hope never to encounter turbulence again when you see how the weather in the sky influences the plane and causes the initial trouble. When that seatbelt sign is on, after seeing this movie, you will want to double strap yourself in. The flight dangers are shot well and the tension mounts like it should in a thriller thanks to the efficient direction of Jean-François Richet, who did the remake of “Precinct 13” back in 2005. He has made some French thrillers that I would now be interested in seeing because this movie worked so well.
Once we are back on the ground, there are some great action set pieces. Butler has a brutal one on one fight in an abandoned building where he is trying to communicate with the airline and his family. This is not a ballet of kicks and splits with pirouette mid-air gun transfers. This is two men, bluntly wrestling, punching, kicking, gouging and simply tiring to outlast the other guy. Captain Brodie Torrance is an airline pilot, who had military flying experience, 20 years earlier but does not have a “certain set of skills”. He is a bright guy who makes choices as he goes along, and simply does the best he can with those choices. There is one “movie moment” interjection of savior activity that rescues him, but otherwise the action seems pretty straightforward.
I have not seen the Luke Cage series but based on Mike Colter in this film, I’d be willing to bet it is pretty good. Colter plays a reluctant ally of the Captain, as a convict who survives the landing and has some of the Neeson style skills that Torrance lacks. It does not quite become a buddy picture, but there are some elements of the odd couple style tropes that show up in a lot of these action films. Colter starts the scenes with mass combat and follows through for the remainder of the picture, but there is more to come. This is an island full of criminal bullies who control the population through force and intimidation, to create an army of reprobates that is just waiting to be taken down. Like most revenge pictures, you are happy watching the bad guys get eviscerated. When the sniper with the .50 caliber starts shooting, the on screen mess is significant.
There is nothing in this that is earthshaking, it simply builds a credible story, ratchets up the tension, and makes you Saturday Matinee Happy that you are watching it. It is shot well, cut tightly and full of the kind of stuff that you want in a movie where the popcorn is hot. This used to be why people went to the movies instead of sitting at home streaming. Get to a theater and live, while watching some bad guys die. Don’t sit at home, go out and have some fun, like watching this.