January is generally seen as a fallow time of year for film fans. Most studios are more focused on pumping out awards season contenders — artful films with complicated views of the human condition. If you’re in the mood for something more straightforward, may I point you to the uncomplicated pleasures of Plane.
That’s right. Plane.
Sure they could have called it “Terror at 30,000 Feet,” “Turbulence” or “Runway of Death.”
But Plane says what needs to be said. (The working title was The Plane. For real.)
It’s a movie about a plane. A plane that falls out of the sky after a lightning strike, leading to a crash landing on a dangerous island south of the Philippines.
Now a movie such as Plane requires a hero. But who? It’s a peculiar time for action stars. Bruce Willis’s acting days are behind him. There’s only so many kidnapping victims Liam Neeson can save, while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is more focused on feuding with DC.
The ‘Old Navy’ of action heroes
Enter Gerard Butler. The Old Navy store of action heroes. Like that old hoodie you find yourself coming back to, there’s a worn-in quality to Butler that improves with age. The Scottish actor has come a long way since he and his abs aplenty bellowed “This is Sparta” in Frank Miller’s 300. At 53 years old, there’s a rumpled and rugged presence to Butler that suits the put-upon characters he plays.
Through the years he’s serviced a whole spectrum of spectacular schlock from the unstoppable secret service agent Mike Banning of the Olympus has Fallen franchise to the killer of Law Abiding Citizen.
Like Harrison Ford, Butler is at his best when things are at their worst. The jingoistic charms of bulletproof Mike Banning are fine, but Butler is better as an average Joe, such as the dad from the 2020’s disaster film Greenland.
Plane finds him firmly in John McClane mode, playing a pilot trying to get home in time for New Years for a long overdue reunion with his daughter.
When the aforementioned lightning strike derails those plans, the film pivots into survival mode. On the film’s manifest is the requisite collection of thinly-sketched characters/passengers; the annoying business guy, the hothead European, the selfie-happy millennials. But at the back of the plane in handcuffs sits Louis Gaspare, a convicted murderer who is being extradited. Mike Colter plays Gaspare with a simmering stare. You may remember him from the Luke Cage Marvel series or recently on the show Evil.
After the crash landing the passengers and crew face a new threat. The Jolo Island is home to a well-armed group of pirates who fund their operations by hunting for hostages. Short on options, Captain Torrance (a former member of the RAF) soon joins forces with Gaspare, who just happens to have spent time with the French Legion (!) to save the day.
Not a bromance
Plane is not an overly ambitious film. Like the title, it knows what it wants to do and gets the job done. It would be overselling things to describe what Butler and Colter have as a bromance. Instead there’s a begrudging atmosphere of practicality. The jungle is filled with bad guys. Someone has taken the civilians. Let’s find them and kill them.
Director Jean-Francois Richet smoothly ratchets up the tension as the film cuts back home to airline headquarters where Tony Goldwyn plays the fast-talking corporate troubleshooter who begins deploying resources, adding a team of mercenaries into the mix. Soon the body count and the tempo of Plane increases.
While it would be a stretch to call Plane gritty, it takes its time establishing the bona fides of the flight crew getting certain details right that will inevitably pay off later. The camera doesn’t linger over the dire consequences of the crash, instead moving quickly to the tale of the captain versus the captors. With a brisk 107 minutes runtime, there’s a sense of momentum that’s refreshing in an age of bloated three-hour blockbusters.
In the end, Plane delivers exactly what it promises. There is a plane and a pilot. Plenty of predicaments and a satisfying thrill ride that arrives with time to spare.