At the outset of Plane it is immediately apparent where the title comes from. Brodie Torrance (Gerard “Gerry Butts” Butler), is a pilot in a rush to make his flight. A flight for which he is the captain. A flight that, presumably, would not be able to depart without him since he is the person who would be flying the plane. He works his way through the airport while on the phone with his daughter. He makes a promise to her: he will arrive in Hawaii by midnight on New Year’s Eve. You see, ever since his wife died and his daughter went off to school, the Torrance clan has not been able to see one another as often as they’d hoped. This pending New Year celebration is something that both are very much looking forward to.
Nothing, Brodie assures his daughter, will prevent him from arriving in time.
He didn’t figure upon his plane crashing onto an island populated by a separatist militia that wants to make hostages/corpses out of him, his crew, and his passengers. But since this is exactly what happens, it looks like he’s going to be late. But better late than never, eh? Time to do action things!! He WILL get to his daughter.
By Brodie’s side is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a prisoner being transported to prison on the titular plane. He’s been on the lam from a murder charge for years, but his special forces tattoo tells Captain Brodie (and us in the audience) that maybe he ain’t so bad, and that perhaps his (certain set) of skills can help to save the day.
It’s a pretty formulaic plot, complete with fisticuffs, gunplay, and chases through the jungle, but when formula is executed this well it’s hard to be too judgmental. Director Jean-François Richet’s previous film Blood Father is an equally lean-and-mean formula adhernet that, like Plane, uses said formula as a vessel to dish out some unexpectedly strong character work. With Plane, screenwriters Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis must economically introduce a diverse roster of passengers without treating them like disposable, people-shaped husks. For the most part they are successful at avoiding egregious tropes, while still utilizing archetypes to present a group of people who we care about just enough to give the film its stakes.
The same economy is given to the interplay between Louis and Brodie, and it’s the one area where the film is weaker for its cutting of narrative fat. Butler and Colter are electric together, and make for a believably formidable team, but the script should have milked their relationship for more comedy, more classically triumphant action beats, and most importantly, more tension. There’s a lot of strong character work to be mined from a team that moves from distrust to full cooperation, and it’s pretty undercooked here. Regardless, they have a chemistry so strong it pushes past this missed opportunity. Both Butler and Colter are natural superstars. If the latter doesn’t have his own cottage industry of actioners on the way, we have failed as a nation.
Overall, the action is cleanly shot and propulsive, even though it occasionally feels like it suffered a PG-13 edit after the fact (which it did not — Plane is rated R). One early bout of fisticuffs is shot in a single, fluid take, showcasing a style of fight choreography that purposefully lacks the heightened, crisp nature of many modern sock ’em-ups. It’s a straight up brawl, and its realism balances out some of the less believable action beats. And if you’re a fan of Rambo, rest assured that there are multiple instances of a .50 cal rifle turning humans into exploding human-shaped blood bags.
The myth of the January movie is one that presses on, despite the fact that this season often allows for a refreshing lack of pretentiousness at the multiplex. Plane is a no-nonsense action flick that delivers exactly what it promises, and does so in a way that is endlessly entertaining. And as promised by the title, there is a plane.
And to the lady who held a conversation at full volume for the entirety of the film, as well as the many people who fucking took phone calls during it: congrats on leaving your home for the first time. Please learn about the concept of “other people.” I hope that every time you use hand soap it turns out to be watered down and you accidentally spray your shirt.
Directed by Jean-François Richet
Written by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis
Starring Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Daniella Pineda, Yoson An
Rated R, 107 minutes