Y'know how every few years, Lorne Michaels trots out a flick based on a Saturday Night Live sketch that's critically savaged, gets anemic box office returns, and inspires dozens of pages of vitriol on forums like DVD Talk? That's what Soul Plane's like, only it bypassed the realm of Mad TV's second season where it belongs and somehow wound up splattered across 1,566 screens nationwide. Anyway, the movie stars newcomer Kevin Hart as Nashawn Wade, whose stroganoff-induced explosive diarrhea and pureed puppy on a Worldwide Airlines flight net him a $100 million judgment against the airline. Despite his first few attempts at entrepreneurship earlier in life floundering, like his failed strip club-slash-daycare center, Nashawn invests his money into an airline more accomodating to the hip-hop generation. Nashawn Wade Airlines, or NWA, is born, and Soul Plane chronicles its inaugural flight. With an ex-con captain who's terrified of heights at the helm and the only white people on the plane being the Hunkee Family returning from a trip to Cracker Land, wackiness and all flavors of assorted hilarity are certain to ensue! Right? Right?
Okay, I'll admit it: Soul Plane is better than I thought it would be. I went in expecting to have my soul crushed with agonizingly bad attempts at humor, dragging me kicking and screaming into the seventh circle of comedic hell. Instead I was just kinda bored. It has its moments early on, though.
"Chicken or beef stroganoff?"
Or after the Hunkee family is introduced:
"I'm gonna have the chicken. I like the way that smelled."
"That was our last chicken. I'm afraid I just have stroganoff."
"So why would you ask me what I wanted?"
"See? Even Dad thinks you're cute."
Maybe it's not any sort of Mametian razor-sharp wit, but it made me laugh. Soul Plane is actually funny with some remote consistency until takeoff: the elderly service rep ignoring Tom Arnold and devoting her attention to some random fighting game on the Xbox, M'onique's profanity-peppered tirades, and...okay, maybe that's it. But still...! Funny. Once the plane takes off, the comedy falls into a downward spiral, plummeting, crashing, and burning. The comedy in Airplane was hit-or-miss, but there was such a constant barrage of jokes that it managed to maintain a steady flow of laughter throughout. Soul Plane has a pretty weak joke-to-laugh ratio that's made even worse since there are so few attempts at humor. Virtually every scene seems to revolve around a single joke, and if that joke turns out to not be that great, then that's four minutes wasted. Some of it can barely be considered comedy, like two security officers belting out 50 Cent lyrics. I mean, I get the point -- to fill time in between tormenting a blinged-out passenger -- but couldn't something...y'know...funny have been crammed in its place? There's a bit where Mr. Hunkee runs into Karl Malone, and they reminisce about their days playing basketball together, back when Malone had the nickname "The Paperboy". Get it? Mailman? Paperb...yeah, pretty weak, and pretty typical of what you can expect from Soul Plane. The whole Tom Arnold subplot is a waste, basically a mix of a prolonged "white people are like this, and black people are like this!" routine from some shitty stand-up comic on open mic night and, I dunno, Captain Ron. Some bits, like a reaction to a turban-ated Middle Eastern passenger, aren't really jokes at all. For every bit that works -- a sight gag about a well-endowed male model on a magazine cover and the passengers in low-class being tossed boxes of Popeye's chicken for their in-flight meal -- there are a couple dozen others that flop. Most of the best gags, and that's using "best" in a way completely contrary to what Merriam-Webster has in mind, were already in the trailer, like the "Survivor" safety video or the pimped-out plane with spinners and hydraulics. For a slapstick comedy, Soul Plane can get surprisingly sappy, particularly Nashawn's heartfelt tale about his entrepreneurial failures in court and a romantic angle that feels shoehorned in. Soul Plane wastes enough time not being funny as it is. Oh well. At least Arielle Kebbel and Sofia Vergara, as skanked-out as she is in this flick, are hot.
"Get off me. You're such a whore."
"Did I stutter?"
As is pretty much standard practice for remotely raunchy comedies anymore, Soul Plane is being issued in separate R-rated and unrated versions. The unrated cut runs around five and a half minutes longer. I didn't meticulously pore over each disc shot-for-shot, but the most glaring differences revolve around a subplot with Muggsy trying to make business class a little more profitable, first turning it into a mini-Vegas and then into a multiethnic strip club. The scene on the music video set runs longer, with Billy Hunkee quibbling over insufficient ass. The footage right before the end credits roll is different too. In the theatrical cut, there's a "where are they now?" epilogue (incorporating chunks of a few unrated scenes, actually), and the unrated version closes with some of the passengers and crew tearing it up in the club upstairs. Annoyingly, that R-rated closer has a couple of solid gags that aren't anywhere on the unrated DVD. Dunno why so much this stuff was trimmed out of the theatrical cut since it seems like it'd net an R without any problem. The raciest stuff in the movie -- the couple continually trying to make it into the Mile High Club, autoerotic asphyxiation, a blind man fingering a baked potato, Nashawn mock-teabagging, Heather rattling off a list of sexual positions, Blanca re-enacting a fuck on the flight deck -- are all in the theatrical cut untouched, as far as I could tell with a quick skim. Guess it's a marketing thing. There are also some differences with the extras that I'll spout off in a second.
Video: Soul Plane sports anamorphic widescreen visuals at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The DVD looks great for the most part, although some of the scenes before the plane took off didn't seem quite as well-defined as the rest of the movie. Its director's music video origins are on display -- it's a bright, vivid, colorful movie, particularly that vibrant shade of purple splattered across the exterior of the plane. It's also a recent theatrical release, so the source material is not surprisingly free of any wear or damage.
Audio: While most six-channel comedy mixes tend to be meek and timid, Soul Plane's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (448Kbps) is pretty aggressive. The hip-hop-heavy soundtrack not surprisingly keeps the subwoofer thumping, and effects like the plane's hydraulics are also accompanied by a hefty low-frequency kick. The surrounds are also constantly buzzing with activity. My only real complaint is that some of the dialogue sounded a little clipped, and sometimes I thought I spotted a bit of background noise creeping into a few of the more dialogue-heavy sequences. For the most part, though, yeah...sounds great. There are also subtitles in English, French, and Spanish as well as closed captions.
Supplements: Most of the extras across the rated and unrated discs are the same, beginning with the twenty-five minute featurette "Boarding Pass: The Making of Soul Plane". Director Jessy Terrero and most of the key actors are interviewed, chatting about how the cast was nailed down, the differences between shooting a music video and a feature film, hammering out the height differences between the movie's two main love interests, working within Snoop's limited availability, and gabbing about just how much fun they had on the set. Terrifyingly, it sounds like the first drafts of the script were even worse than what wound up on-screen. A bunch of 'em return for the audio commentary, which features Kevin Hart, Tom Arnold, Gary Anthony Williams, Godfrey, and director Jessy Terrero. They don't really say a lot -- they pretty much just sit back and laugh. The commentaries across the rated and unrated versions seem to be nearly identical, though there are notes on the scenes specific to each version. There's also the safety video spoofing Destiny's Child's "Survivor", a two-minute outtake reel, the theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery. On a more promotional tip are a minute-long plug for the upcoming game Def Jam: Fight for NY and trailers for other MGM releases, including Barbershop, Barbershop 2, and Dorm Daze.
Exclusive to the unrated DVD is "The Upgrade" (5:25), which has the cast chatting about working with music video director Jessy Terrero on his first feature. The deleted scenes are also completely different. The R-rated DVD has seven scenes with optional audio commentary -- an alternate Karl Malone setup, a couple jabs at overweight passengers, more bits with flight attendants passing out Colt 45s and Popeye's chicken, Nashawn stumbling upon another dog, and public housing hos. The menu calls them "ho's", actually, but I don't like that apostrophe there. Yes, that's how white I am -- quibbling over punctuation in the plural form of urban slang for a whore. Anyway, the unrated DVD has four totally different scenes, none of which are accompanied by any commentary. There's some surgical fecal extraction in the bathroom, a peek in the plane's smoking section, Flame telling Billy jus' how much he loves mens, and some alternate dialogue from Heather in the big black cockpit. So, while I'll freely admit to not being all that keen on Soul Plane, I think that if MGM is going to churn out two separate releases, the unrated disc should have everything that's on the R-rated DVD. Why they decided to split the deleted scenes up the way they did, I have no idea. Both releases feature sixteen chapter stops and animated widescreen menus.
Conclusion: Soul Plane might've been a funny recurring bit on a sketch comedy show, but its thin plot and sparse laughs don't make for much of a movie. Not recommended.