Of course, that begs the question: Can a movie be considered "bad" if it's really, really enjoyable? I say it depends on what the movie is trying to do. "Snakes on a Plane," as it happens, has no intention of being scary, or even believable. It wants only to offer broad, cheesy thrills, outlandish scenarios and cartoonish over-acting, to be a sort of parody of ridiculous disaster movies while also being a ridiculous disaster movie. In that regard, it's a success. It is a good movie masquerading as a bad movie masquerading as a good movie.
It stars Samuel L. Jackson, as you know, and that's critical to its success, although confined to an airplane, Mr. L. Jackson isn't able to do much of his trademark butt-kicking. He is able to yell a lot, though, and to exude coolness at all times. When he finally declares, "I have had it with these m*****f****** snakes on this m*****f****** plane!," well, you know he's not kidding around.
Jackson plays an FBI agent named Flynn who's escorting a key witness in a criminal trial from Hawaii to L.A. The crime lord in question, an over-the-top villain named Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson), springs a trap, however: While the plane is over the Pacific, a crate of poisonous snakes is opened in the cargo hold, and pheromones sprayed everywhere make the slithery fellas aggressive and vicious.
This is possibly the stupidest plan any villain has ever had outside of a James Bond movie, and even the characters in the film -- including on-the-ground FBI agent Hank Harris (Bobby Cannavale) -- realize it. But insane or not, the plan has come to fruition, and now there are indeed dozens of em-effing snakes on this em-effing plane.
There's no wasting time here. Within 30 minutes of the film's beginning, the coach section of the plane is in the throes of mayhem, with CGI snakes -- not one of which looks remotely real, by the way -- attacking capriciously and randomly. The filmmakers know that if you've come to see something called "Snakes on a Plane," there are certain things you're going to expect. One is that a woman will be bitten on the boob while having sex in an airplane lavatory. Another is that a man will be bitten on the penis while urinating in a different lavatory. Yet another is that the yappy little dog belonging to an annoying character will exit this life in the belly of a snake. I am pleased to report that "Snakes on a Plane" delivers in all of these areas.
In fact, it's genuinely impressive how director David R. Ellis, with two other cheesy-fun movies under his belt ("Final Destination 2" and "Cellular"), maintains the pace once the chaos begins. The snakes aren't just biting passengers. They're attacking the pilots, too, not to mention short-circuiting wires and causing electrical problems. People are trampling one another as they flee their legless pursuers. Children, babies, carryon luggage -- everything is fair game.
What is most refreshing is that the film knows it's campy. It has no serious pretensions. The script (by Josh Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez) is shot through with humorous interludes, and also brims with the sort of un-P.C. elements that characterized the '70s disaster flicks: a sexist pilot, a slutty stewardess, a flamingly gay flight attendant.
It is not scary. It is not suspenseful. It is absurd and violent, sometimes shockingly, laughably so. The movie seems to be having as much fun with itself as we are, which is exactly the right tone to take. In general, I think movies should aim higher than "let's be cheesy and stupid and laugh at ourselves." A steady diet of this kind of nonsense would be bad. The inevitable rip-offs of the "Snakes on a Plane" formula will surely be wrong, all wrong, because they will be attempting to do something that shouldn't be done very often, something that "Snakes on a Plane" did well and that should be left alone for a while. For here and now, though, this is laugh-out-loud, holler-at-the-screen, oh-no-that-snake-did-NOT-just-come-out-of-that-guy's-mouth merriment at its finest.