A film review by Craig J. Koban January 31, 2023

PLANE  jjj

2023, R, 107 mins.

Gerard Butler as Brodie Torrance  /  Mike Colter as Louis Gaspare  /  Yoson An as Dele  /  Tony Goldwyn as Scarsdale  /  Daniella Pineda as Bonnie  /  Paul Ben-Victor as Hampton  /  Remi Adeleke as Shellback  /  Joey Slotnick as Sinclair  /  Evan Dane Taylor as Junmar  /  Claro de los Reyes as Hajan  /  Haleigh Hekking as Daniela Torrance

Directed by Jean-François Richet  /  Written by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis



PLANE is one of the better films with an ultra bland title that I've seen in awhile.  I mean, you look at that word on the poster and it just doesn't scream out at you, does it?  

But this action thriller does - sarcasm aside - boast a premise of simple economy: 

Gerald Butler plays a rugged and tough pilot whose plane crash lands on an island, leaving himself, the crew and passengers having to fend off blood thirsty militants that reside there.  

So much of PLANE comes off as a hybrid of disaster efforts like AIRPORT, the hardcore jungle-infused action of RAMBO, and the self-rescue elements of the video game series FAR CRY.  Directed with a slick workmanlike confidence by Jean-Francois Richet (who previously made the quite decent BLOOD FATHER and well before that the thanklessly solid remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), PLANE embraces its pulpy ludicrousness and emerges as a wickedly enjoyable retrograde thriller that kind of joyously hearkens back to the types of brainless (but enjoyable) action pictures of the 80s and 90s.  That, and it features Butler - fully in his element here - giving a surprisingly grounded performance as his vulnerable everyman hero. 

The 300 and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN star appears here as Brodie Torrence, a pilot for Trailblazer Airlines that's about to depart for a fairly routine flight from Singapore to Hawaii, after which time he wants to settle in from some time with his daughter that he has been away from because of work commitments.  We learn a few details about him early on, like the fact that he's a widower and was let go from his previous high end airplane gig because he was forced to get physical with an unruly passenger, which led him to taking a lower marquee job at Trailblazer to fly half empty planes around Asia at less than desirable times.  Still, Brodie takes to his current assignment with the utmost professionalism and prepares to fly his scant 14 passengers to their destination.  We also meet his co-pilot (Yoson An) and head flight attendant (Daniella Pineda), not to mention that we get quick intros to the passengers themselves, all of whom are more one-dimensional character types than fully fleshed out people.  Oh, there's also Louis (Mike Colter), who's a prisoner that was previously convicted of murder that's being transferred on Brodie's plane alongside an armed air marshal. 



You just know that things will not go well for this flight when Brodie and his team are ordered by higher ups to push through a massive storm during their journey.  Despite Brodie's more than capable piloting expertise, his plane is struck by lightning somewhere over the Philippines, which forces him to use some quick wits and plot an emergency landing.  They do manage to make it to a nearby and unknown island (all navigation systems were fried during the strike, so they were flying blind), but during the chaos of the crash one of the stewardesses dies alongside (uh-oh!) the air marshal.  Once Brodie is able to survey the situation, he orders everyone off the plane and into the Philippine island elements so they can take stock of what's salvageable on the downed airliner.  With intense heat, little water and food, and without actually knowing where they are and being unable to communicate with the outside world, Brodie takes it upon himself to trek into the jungle in search of civilization and a way to call his bosses back home to launch a rescue mission.  He decides to take Louis alongside him, mostly because he looks like he can handle himself and is revealed to be ex-military.  While this duo is gone a local militia arrives at the crash sight, and these lawless separatists see any outsider as easy pickings for abduction and later ransoming.  They kidnap everyone left behind, leaving Brodie and Louis springing into an impromptu rescue plan.  Concurrent to this are scenes back home in New York with Trailblazer CEO Hampton (Paul Ben Victor) having emergency meetings to assess what can be done for this seemingly doomed plane.  A take-no-prisoners PR man in Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) shows up and launches his plan to send in mercenaries to the crash sight (granted, that might not be the best PR move for a corporation trying to evade the press on this disaster). 

The marketing of PLANE is only half correct about the actual kind of film we have here, seeing as ads for it heavily pitched it as a DIE HARD-ian action thriller, which is true to a degree.  Interestingly, there are a lot of procedural elements contained within that are more understated and nuanced, and much of the opening sections of the film almost have a documentary feel for the ebbs and flows of routine flight checks, departure prep, and finally takeoffs.  It's certainly a more potentially mundane way to open a film of this ilk, and some viewers may fidget in their seats wondering when the film will boil over into action, but I appreciated Richet's slow build approach to the premise and underlining material.  As a director, he's good at scenes of casual observation between characters and - much later on - really delves into the paranoia and feverous levels of anxiety that plague Brodie, his crew, and the passengers while facing unknown and potentially harsh elements.  The plane crash sequence itself is pretty spectacularly staged and executed as well, and for several minutes we witness Brodie do everything in his power to land his lifeless plane with a dozen-plus passengers rightfully freaking out into hysterics.  Yes, we've all seen an innumerable number of plane crash sequences in movies before, but PLANE deserves props for making its standout sequence viscerally intense and quite scary.  The film also wisely reminds viewers why you should always - and I mean always! - wear your seatbelt on board a plane after instructed to by the crew. 

PLANE really picks up momentum and speed after the crash in question, during which time Brodie and Louis realize that their somewhat tenuous partnership needs to hanker down and find any way to work cohesively together to get those passengers back from those damn dirty militant kidnappers.  To say that PLANE plays into Butler's strengths is an understatement, but it was somewhat refreshing to see that his Brodie is not portrayed as some sort of indestructible and impervious to pain action hero on pure autopilot.  Obviously, this red eye pilot is no push over and - as alluded to earlier - he can handle himself in tight spots, but even with his past history with violence and a street cred toughness Brodie is shown as being more emotionally shakey than in snarky kick-ass mode.  There's an urgency to how Butler plays this character as well, and this Scottish pilot has to constantly battle intense fatigue and a frightening uncertainty of what's to come with every new scene.  And he's frequently unsure of himself, which makes his normal man driven to become a hero feel like a bit more of an organic journey.  This role is no large stretch for the actor, to be sure, and he has played macho guys placed in dire survival situations for most of his career, but he's undeniably good in PLANE as his brawny, determined, but sometimes lacking in confidence hero.  He's also well paired with Colter (decent in Netflix's LUKE CAGE), who has the less showier part, but nevertheless brings some calm spoken and steely eyed authority to Brodie's unlikely companion.   

On a negative, though, PLANE has its share of issues, not the least of which are cookie cutter, cardboard cutout baddies in those militia men (lead by Evan Dane Taylor's Junmar) that are delineated in the most black and white manner of pure villainy possible (the geo-politics of the film are laughably watered down too, which does not help matters).  The mercs that Trailblazer higher ups inexplicably decide to hire and send in are also poorly written (they're all one-note hardened grunts that facilitate the film's need to help Brodie and Louis on the firepower front...and not much else).  Still, it's an undeniable giddy blast to see Brodie and company take names and kick militia ass to save those defenseless passengers, and Richet generates some white knuckled moments of in-your-face violence during the cat and mouse games that occur between Brodie, Louis and these deplorable kidnappers.  There's one staggeringly well engineered initial fight between Brodie and one of Junmar's thugs inside an abandoned building with the only working phone that the former can find on the island.  I also really dug the large scale climax involving Brodie with his newly arrived black-ops allies that have come with an improbably huge sniper riffle that can blast through just about any form of cover and grotesquely pierces targets and then sends what remains of them flying for several feet back like they've been hit by a rocket (cooooool).  Everything builds to a fairly cartoonish finale involving a preposterous escape plan from the island that doesn't perhaps make much sense at all, but the build up to it is breathlessly exciting all the same. 

I went into PLANE with incredibly low expectations and came out pleasantly surprised.  There are ample moments scattered throughout that require viewers to radically suspend their disbelief, but I enjoyed the logic defying absurdity of it all.  As an action and thrill generating machine, this is a genre piece made of aging parts, yes, but it spins its gears smoothly and robustly and gets the job done.  It's also sometimes easy to nonchalantly overlook how good Butler can be in these types of films when given an appropriate opportunity to so, and he makes his protagonist come off credibly despite the madness that surrounds him.  PLANE most certainly doesn't demand much of its core audience, but it unpretentiously delivers as an old school, blunt force, and propulsive action thriller that's a hell of a lot better than most qualitative dumpster fires that get unceremoniously positioned during the release graveyard that is January.  The small late night screening audience that I was with ate this film up...and I'm not ashamed to admit that I kind of did as well. 

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